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A short story by Louis Becke


Title:     "Mani"
Author: Louis Becke [More Titles by Becke]

Mani was a half-caste--father a Martinique nigger, mother a Samoan--twenty-two years of age, and lived at Moata, a little village two miles from Apia in Samoa.

Mani's husband was a Frenchman named Francois Renault, who, when he was sober, worked as a boat-builder and carpenter, for the German "factory" at Matafele. And when he was away form home I would hear Mani laughing, and see her playing with her two dark-skinned little girls, and talking to them in a curious mixture of Samoan-French. They were merry mites with big rolling eyes, and unmistakably "kinky" hair--like their mother.

It was a fortnight after the great gale of 15th March, 1889, when the six German and American warships were wrecked, that Mani came to my house with a basket of fresh-water fish she had netted far up in a deep mountain pool. She looked very happy. "Frank," she said, had not beaten her for two whole weeks, and had promised not to beat her any more. And he was working very steadily now.

"That is good to hear, Mani."

She smiled as she nodded her frizzy head, tossed her _tiputa_ (open blouse) over one shoulder, and sat down on the verandah steps to clean the fish.

"Yes, he will beat me no more--at least not whilst the shipwrecked sailors remain in Samoa. When they go I shall run away with the children--to some town in Savai'i where he cannot find me."

"It happened in this way," she went on confidentially: "a week ago two American sailors came to the house and asked for water, for they were thirsty and the sun was hot I told them that the Moata water was brackish, and I husked and gave them two young coco-nuts each. And then Frank, who had been drinking, ran out of the house and cursed and struck me. Then one of the sailors felled him to the earth, and the other dragged him up by his collar, and both kicked him so much that he wept.

"'Doth he often beat thee?' said one of the sailors to me. And I said 'Yes'.

"Then they beat him again, saying it was for my sake. And then one of them shook him and said: 'O thou dog, to so misuse thine own wife! Now listen. In three days' time we two of the _Trenton_ will have a day's liberty, and we shall come here and see if thou hast again beaten thy wife. And if thou hast but so much as _mata pio'd_ her we shall each kick thee one hundred times.'"

(_Mata pio_, I must explain, is Samoan for looking "cross-eyed" or unpleasantly at a person.)

"And Frank was very much afraid, and promised he would no longer harm me, and held out his hand to them weepingly, but they would not take it, and swore at him. And then they each gave my babies a quarter of a dollar, and I, because my heart was glad, gave them each a ring of tortoiseshell."

"Did they come back, Mani?"

Mani, at heart, was a flirt. She raised her big black eyes with their long curling lashes to me, and then closed them for a moment demurely.

"Yes," she replied, "they came back. And when I told them that my husband was now kind to me, and was at work, they laughed, and left for him a long piece of strong tobacco tied round with tarred rope. And they said, 'Tell him we will come again by-and-by, and see how he behaveth to thee'."

"Mani," said in English, as she finished the last of the fish, "why do you speak Samoan to me when you know English so well? Where did you learn it? Your husband always speaks French to you."

Mani told me her story. In her short life of two-and-twenty years she had had some strange experiences.

"My father was Jean Galoup. He was a negro of St. Pierre, in Martinique, and came to Samoa in a French barque, which was wrecked on Tutuila. He was one of the sailors. When the captain and the other sailors made ready to go away in the boats he refused to go, and being a strong, powerful man they dared not force him. So he remained on Tutuila and married my mother, and became a Samoan, and made much money by selling food to the whaleships. Then, when I was twelve years old, my mother died, and my father took me to his own country--to Martinique. It took us two years to get there, for we went through many countries--to Sydney first, then to China, and to India, and then to Marseilles in France. But always in English ships. That is how I have learned to speak English.

"We lived for three years in Martinique, and then one day, as my father was clearing some land at the foot of Mont Pelee, he was bitten by _fer-de-lance_ and died, and I was left alone.

"There was a young carpenter at St. Pierre, named Francois Renault, who had one day met me in the market-place, and after that often came to see my father and me. He said he loved me, and so when my father was dead, we went to the priest and we were married.

"My husband had heard much of Samoa from my father, and said to me: 'Let us go there and live'.

"So we came here, and then Frank fell into evil ways, for he was cross with me because he saw that the pure-blooded Samoan girls were prettier than me, and had long straight hair and lighter skins. And because he could not put me away he began to treat me cruelly. And I love him no more. But yet will I stay by him if he doeth right."

The fates were kind to Mani a few months later. Her husband went to sea and never returned, and Mani, after waiting a year, was duly married by the consul to a respectable old trader on Savai'i, who wanted a wife with a "character"--the which is not always obtainable with a bride in the South Seas.

[The end]
Louis Becke's short story: "Mani"