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Becke, Louis / Rídan The Devil And Other Stories 1899
Produced by David Widger


By Louis Becke

Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company 1899




























Rdan lived alone in a little hut on the borders of the big German
plantation at Mulifenua, away down at the lee end of Upolu Island, and
every one of his brown-skinned fellow-workers either hated or feared
him, and smiled when Burton, the American overseer, would knock him down
for being a 'sulky brute.' But no one of them cared to let Rdan see him
smile. For to them he was a wizard, a devil, who could send death in the
night to those he hated. And so when anyone died on the plantation he
was blamed, and seemed to like it. Once, when he lay ironed hand and
foot in the stifling corrugated iron 'calaboose,' with his blood-shot
eyes fixed in sullen rage on Burton's angered face, Tirauro, a Gilbert
Island native assistant overseer, struck him on the mouth and called him
'a pig cast up by the ocean.' This was to please the white man. But it
did not, for Burton, cruel as he was, called Tirauro a coward and felled
him at once. By ill-luck he fell within reach of Rdan, and in another
moment the manacled hands had seized his enemy's throat. For five
minutes the three men struggled together, the white overseer beating
Rdan over the head with the butt of his heavy Colt's pistol, and then
when Burton rose to his feet the two brown men were lying motionless
together; but Tirauro was dead.

Rdan was sick for a long time after this. A heavy flogging always did
make him sick, although he was so big and strong. And so, as he could
not work in the fields, he was sent to Apia to do light labour in the
cotton-mill there. The next morning he was missing. He had swum to
a brig lying at anchor in the harbour and hidden away in the empty
forehold. Then he was discovered and taken ashore to the mill again,
where the foreman gave him 'a dose of Cameroons medicine'--that is,
twenty-five lashes.

'Send him back to the plantation,' said the manager, who was a mere
German civilian, and consequently much despised by his foreman, who had
served in Africa. 'I'm afraid to keep him here, and I'm not going to
punish him if he tries to get away again, poor devil.'

So back he went to Mulifanua. The boat voyage from Apia down the coast
inside the reef is not a long one, but the Samoan crew were frightened
to have such a man free; so they tied him hand and foot and then lashed
him down tightly under the midship thwart with strips of green _fau_
bark. Not that they did so with unnecessary cruelty, but ex-Lieutenant
Schwartzkoff, the foreman, was looking on, and then, besides that,
this big-boned, light-skinned man was a foreigner, and a Samoan hates
a foreigner of his own colour if he is poor and friendless. And then he
was an _aitu_ a devil, and could speak neither Samoan, nor Fijian, nor
Tokelau, nor yet any English or German.

Clearly, therefore, he was not a man at all, but a _manu_--a beast, and
not to be trusted with free limbs. Did not the foreman say that he
was possessed of many devils, and for two years had lived alone on the
plantation, working in the field with the gangs of Tokelau and Solomon
Island men, but speaking to no one, only muttering in a strange tongue
to himself and giving sullen obedience to his taskmasters?

But as they talked and sang, and as the boat sailed along the white line
of beach fringed with the swaying palms, Rdan groaned in his agony, and
Pulu, the steersman, who was a big strong man and not a coward like his
fellows, took pity on the captive.

'Let us give him a drink,' he said; 'he cannot hurt us as he is. Else he
may die in the boat and we lose the price of his passage; for the white
men at Mulifanua will not pay us for bringing to them a dead man.'

So they cast off the lashings of _fau_ bark that bound Rdan to the
thwart, and Pulu, lifting him up, gave him a long drink, holding the
gourd to his quivering mouth--for his hands were tied behind him.

'Let him rest with his back against the side of the boat,' said Pulu
presently; 'and, see, surely we may loosen the thongs around his wrists
a little, for they are cutting into the flesh.'

But the others were afraid, and begged him to let well alone. Then Pulu
grew angry and called them cowards, for, as they argued, Rdan fell
forward on his face in a swoon.

When 'the devil' came to and opened his wearied, blood-shot eyes, Pulu
was bathing his forehead with cold water, and his bruised and swollen
hands were free. For a minute or so he gasped and stared at the big
Samoan, and a heavy sigh broke from his broad naked chest. Then he put
his hands to his face--and sobbed.

Pulu drew back in wondering pity--surely no devil could weep--and then,
with a defiant glance at the three other Samoans, he stooped down and
unbound Rdan's feet.

'Let him lie,' he said, going aft to the tiller. 'We be four strong
men--he is but as a child from weakness. See, his bones are like to cut
through his skin. He hath been starved.'

* * * * *

At dusk they ran the boat along the plantation jetty, and Pulu and
another man led Rfdan up the path to the manager's house. His hands were
free, but a stout rope of cinnet was tied around his naked waist and
Pulu held the end.

'Ah, you dumb, sulky devil; you've come back to us again, have you?'
said Burton, eyeing him savagely. 'I wish Schwartzkoff had kept you up
in Apia, you murderous, yellow-hided scoundrel!'

'What's the use of bully-ragging him?' remarked the plantation engineer,
with a sarcastic laugh; 'he doesn't understand a word you say. Club-law
and the sasa {*} are the only things that appeal to him--and he gets
plenty of both on Mulifanua. Hallo, look at that! Why, he's kissing
Pulu's toe!'

* Whip.

Burton laughed. 'So he is. Look out, Pulu, perhaps he's a _kai tagata_'
(cannibal). 'Take care he doesn't bite it off.'

Pulu shook his mop of yellow hair gravely. A great pity filled his big
heart, for as he had turned to go back to the boat Rdan had fallen upon
his knees and pressed his lips to the feet of the man who had given him
a drink.

That night Burton and the Scotch engineer went to Rdan's hut, taking
with them food and a new sleeping-mat. He was sitting cross-legged
before a tiny fire of coco-nut shells, gazing at the blue, leaping jets
of flame, and as the two men entered, slowly turned his face to them.

'Here,' said Burton, less roughly than usual,' here's some _kai kai_ for

He took the food from Burton's hand, set it beside him on the ground,
and then, supporting himself on his gaunt right arm and hand, gave the
overseer one long look of bitter, undying hatred; then his eyes drooped
to the fire again.

'And here, Rdan,' said Craik, the engineer, throwing the sleeping-mat
upon the ground, 'that'll keep your auld bones frae cutting into the
ground. And here is what will do ye mair good still,' and he placed a
wooden pipe and a stick of tobacco in 'the devil's' hand. In a moment
Rdan was on his knees with his forehead pressed to the ground in

The men looked at him in silence for a few moments as he crouched at
Craik's feet, with the light of the fire playing upon his tattooed
yellow back and masses of tangled black hair.

'Come awa', Burton, leave the puir deevil to himself. And I'm thinking
ye might try him on the other tack awhile. Ye _have not_ broken the
creature's spirit yet, and I wouldna try to if I were you--for my own
safety. Sit up Rdan, mon, and smoke your pipe.'

* * * * *

Two years before, Rdan had been brought to Samoa by a German
labour-ship, which had picked him up in a canoe at sea, somewhere off
the coast of Dutch New Guinea. He was the only survivor of a party of
seven, and when lifted on board was in the last stage of exhaustion from
thirst and hunger. Where the canoe had sailed from, and whither bound,
no one on board the _Iserbrook_ could learn, for the stranger spoke a
language utterly unknown to anyone of even the _Iserbrook's_ polyglot
ship's company--men who came from all parts of Polynesia and Micronesia.
All that could be learned from him by signs and gestures was that a
great storm had overtaken the canoe, many days of hunger and thirst had
followed, and then death ended the agonies of all but himself.

In a few weeks, and while the brig was thrashing her way back to Samoa
against the south-east trades, Rdan regained his health and strength
and became a favourite with all on board, white and brown. He was quite
six feet in height, with a bright yellow skin, bronzed by the sun;
and his straight features and long black hair were of the true
Malayo-Polynesian type. From the back of his neck two broad stripes of
bright blue tattooing ran down the whole length of his muscular back,
and thence curved outwards and downwards along the back of his thighs
and terminated at each heel. No one on the _Iserbrook_ had ever seen
similar tattooing, and many were the conjectures as to Rdan's native
place. One word, however, he constantly repeated, 'Onata,' and then
would point to the north-west. But no one knew of such a place, though
many did of an Oneaka, far to the south-east--an island of the Gilbert
Group near the Equator.

The weeks passed, and at last Rdan looked with wondering eyes upon the
strange houses of the white men in Apia harbour. By-and-by boats
came off to the ship, and the three hundred and odd brown-skinned and
black-skinned people from the Solomons and the Admiralties and the
countless islands about New Britain and New Ireland were taken ashore
to work on the plantations at Vailele and Mulifanua, and Rdan alone was
left. He was glad of this, for the white men on board had been kind to
him, and he began to hope that he would be taken back to Onata. But
that night he was brought ashore by the captain to a house where many
white men were sitting together, smoking and drinking. They all looked
curiously at him and addressed him in many island tongues, and Rdan
smiled and shook his head and said, 'Me Rdan; me Onata.'

'Leave him with me, Khne,' said Burton to the captain of the brig.
'He's the best and biggest man of the lot you've brought this trip. I'll
marry him to one of my wife's servants, and he'll live in clover down at

So early next morning Rfdan was put in a boat with many other new
'boys,' and he smiled with joy, thinking he was going back to the
ship--and Onata. But when the boat sailed round Mulinu's Point, and the
spars of the _Iserbrook_ were suddenly hidden by the intervening line of
palm trees, a cry of terror burst from him, and he sprang overboard.
He was soon caught, though he dived and swam like a fish. And then two
wild-eyed Gilbert Islanders held him by the arms, and laughed as he wept
and kept repeating, 'Onata, Onata.'

* * * * *

From that day began his martyrdom. He worked hard under his overseer,
but ran away again and again, only to be brought back and tied up.
Sometimes, as he toiled, he would look longingly across the narrow
strait of sunlit water at the bright green little island of Manono, six
miles away; and twice he stole down to the shore at night, launched
a canoe and paddled over towards it. But each time the plantation
guard-boat brought him back; and then Burton put him in irons. Once he
swam the whole distance, braving the sharks, and, reaching the island,
hid in a taro swamp till the next night. He meant to steal food and a
canoe--and seek for Onata. But the Manono people found him, and, though
he fought desperately, they overcame and bound him, and the women cursed
him for a Tfito{*} devil, a thieving beast, and beat and pelted him as
the men carried him back to the plantation, tied up like a wild boar, to
get their ten dollars reward for him from the manager. And Burton gave
him thirty lashes as a corrective.

* The Samoans apply the term 'Tfito' to all natives of the
Gilbert Group and other equatorial islands. The word is an
abbreviation of Taputeauea (Drummond's Island), and 'Tfito'
is synonymous for 'savage'--in some senses.

Then came long, long months of unceasing toil, broken only by attempts
to escape, recapture, irons and more lashes. The rest of the native
labourers so hated and persecuted him that at last the man's nature
changed, and he became desperate and dangerous. No one but Burton dared
strike him now, for he would spring at an enemy's throat like a madman,
and half strangle him ere he could be dragged away stunned, bruised and
bleeding. When his day's slavery was over he would go to his hut, eat
his scanty meal of rice, biscuit and yam in sullen silence, and brood
and mutter to himself. But from the day of his first flogging no word
ever escaped his set lips. All these things he told afterwards to Von
Hammer, the supercargo of the _Mindora_, when she came to Mulifanua with
a cargo of new 'boys.'{*}

* Polynesian labourers are generally termed 'boys.'

Von Hammer had been everywhere in the North Pacific, so Burton took him
to Rdan's hut, and called to the 'sulky devil' to come out. He came,
and sullenly followed the two men into the manager's big sitting-room,
and sat down cross-legged on the floor. The bright lamplight shone full
on his nude figure and the tangle of black hair that fell about his
now sun-darkened back and shoulders. And, as on that other evening long
before, when he sat crouching over his fire, his eyes sought Burton's
face with a look of implacable hatred.

'See if you can find out where the d--d brute comes from,' said Burton.

Von Hammer looked at Rdan intently for a minute, and then said one or
two words to him in a tongue that the overseer had never before heard.

With trembling limbs and a joyful wonder shining in his dark eyes, Rfdan
crept up to the supercargo, and then, in a voice of whispered sobs, he
told his two years' tale of bitter misery.

* * * * *

'Very well,' said Burton, an hour later, to Von Hammer, 'you can take
him. I don't want the brute here. But he is a dangerous devil, mind.
Where do you say he comes from?'

'Onata--Saint David's Island--a little bit of a sandy atoll, as big as
Manono over there, and much like it, too. I know the place well--lived
there once when I was pearling, ten years ago. I don't think the natives
there see a white man more than once in five years. It's a very isolated
spot, off the north-ast coast of New Guinea. "Bully" Hayes used to call
there once. However, let me have him. The _Mindora_ may go to Manila
next year; if so, I'll land him at Onata on our way there. Anyway, he's
no good to you. And he told me just now that he has been waiting his
chance to murder you.'

The _Mindora_ returned to Apia to take in stores, and Von Hammer
took Rdan with him, clothed in a suit of blue serge, and with silent
happiness illumining his face. For his heart was leaping within him at
the thought of Onata, and of those who numbered him with the dead;
and when he clambered up the ship's side and saw Pulu, the big Samoan,
working on deck with the other native sailors, he flung his arms around
him and gave him a mighty hug, and laughed like a pleased child when Von
Hammer told him that Pulu would be his shipmate till he saw the green
land and white beach of Onata once more.

* * * * *

Six months out from Samoa the _Mindora_ was hove-to off Choiseul Island,
in the Solomon Group, waiting for her boat. Von Hammer and four hands
had gone ashore to land supplies for a trader, and the brig was awaiting
his return. There was a heavy sea running on the reef as the boat pushed
off from the beach in the fast-gathering darkness; but who minds such
things with a native crew? So thought Von Hammer as he grasped the long,
swaying steer oar, and swung the whale-boat's head to the white line of
surf. 'Give it to her, boys; now's our chance--there's a bit of a lull
now, eh, Pulu? Bend to it, Rdan, my lad.'

Out shot the boat, Pulu pulling stroke, Rdan bow-oar, and two sturdy,
square-built Savage Islanders amidships. Surge after surge roared and
hissed past in the darkness, and never a drop of water wetted their
naked backs; and then, with a wild cry from the crew and a shouting
laugh from the steersman, she swept over and down the edge of the reef
and gained the deep water--a second too late! Ere she could rise from
the blackened trough a great curling roller towered high over, and then
with a bursting roar fell upon and smothered her. When she rose to the
surface Von Hammer was fifty feet away, clinging to the steer-oar. A
quick glance showed him that none of the crew were missing--they were
all holding on to the swamped boat and 'swimming' her out away from
the reef, and shouting loudly for him to come alongside. Pushing the
steer-oar before him, he soon reached the boat, and, despite his own
unwillingness, his crew insisted on his getting in. Then, each still
grasping the gunwale with one hand, they worked the boat out yard by
yard, swaying her fore and aft whenever a lull in the seas came, and
jerking the water out of her by degrees till the two Savage Islanders
were able to clamber in and bale out with the wooden bucket slung under
the after-thwart, while the white man kept her head to the sea. But the
current was setting them steadily along, parallel with the reef, and
every now and then a sea would tumble aboard and nearly fill her again.
At last, however, the Savage Islanders got her somewhat free of water,
and called to Pulu and Rdan to get in--there were plenty of spare
canoe-paddles secured along the sides in case of an emergency such as

'Get in, Pulu, get in,' said Rfdan to the Samoan, in English; 'get in

But Pulu refused. He was a bigger and a heavier man than Rfdan, he said,
and the boat was not yet able to bear the weight of a fourth man. This
was true, and the supercargo, though he knew the awful risk the men
ran, and urged them to jump in and paddle, yet knew that the additional
weight of two such heavy men as Rfdan and Pulu meant death to all,
for every now and then a leaping sea would again fill the boat to the

And then suddenly, amid the crashing sound of the thundering rollers on
the reef, Rdan raised his voice in an awful shriek.

'_Quick! Pulu, quick!_ Some shark hav' come. Get in, get in first,' he
said in his broken English. And as he spoke he grasped the gunwale
with both hands and raised his head and broad shoulders high out of the
water, and a bubbling, groan-like sound issued from his lips.

In an instant the big Samoan swung himself into the boat, and Von Hammer
called to Rdan to get in also.

'Nay, oh, white man!' he answered, in a strange choking voice, 'let me
stay here and hold to the boat. We are not yet safe from the reef. But
paddle, paddle... quickly!'

In another minute or two the boat was out of danger, and then Rdan's
voice was heard.

'Lift me in,' he said quietly, 'my strength is spent.'

The two Savage Islanders sprang to his aid, drew him up over the side,
and tumbled him into the boat. Then, without a further look, they seized
their paddles and plunged them into the water. Rdan lay in a huddled-up
heap on the bottom boards.

'Exhausted, poor devil!' said Von Hammer to himself, bending down and
peering at the motionless figure through the darkness. Then something
warm flowed over his naked foot as the boat rolled, and he looked closer
at Rdan, and--

'Oh, my God!' burst from him--both of Rdan's legs were gone--bitten off
just above the knees.

Twenty minutes later, as the boat came alongside the _Mindora_, Rdan
'the devil' died in the arms of the man who had once given him a drink.



The house in which I lived from my birth till I was twelve years of age
stood on the green-grassed slopes of a treeless bluff which overlooked
the blue waters of the sunlit Pacific. Except for a cluster of five or
six little weatherboard cottages perched on the verge of the headland,
half a mile away, and occupied by the crew of the Government pilot boat,
there were no other dwellings near, for the 'town,' as it was called,
lay out of sight, on the low, flat banks of a tidal river, whose upper
waters were the haunt and breeding places of the black swan, the wild
duck and the pelican.

My father was the principal civil official in the place, which was
called Bar Harbour, one of the smaller penal settlements in Australia,
founded for what were called 'the better class' of convicts, many of
whom, having received their emancipation papers, had settled in the
vicinity, and had become prosperous and, in a measure, respected
settlers, though my father, who had a somewhat bitter tongue, said that
no ex-convict could ever be respected in the colony until he had lent
money to one or other of the many retired military or civil officers
who held large Crown grants of land in the district and worked them with
convict labour; for, while numbers of the emancipists throve and became
almost wealthy, despite the many cruel and harassing restrictions
imposed upon them by the unwritten laws of society (which yet
academically held them to be purged of their offences), the grand
military gentlemen and their huge estates generally went to ruin--mostly
through their own improvidence, though such misfortunes, our minister,
the Reverend Mr Sampson, said, in the sermons he preached in
our hideous, red-brick church, were caused by an 'inscrutable
Providence'--their dwellings and store houses were burnt, their cattle
and sheep disappeared, and their 'assigned' labourers took to the bush,
and either perished of starvation or became bushrangers and went to the
gallows in due course.

My mother, who was a gentle, tender-hearted woman, and seemed to live
and move and have her being only for the purpose of making happy those
around her, was, being English-born (she was of a Devonshire family),
a constant church-goer, not for the sake of appearances, for her
intelligence was too great for her to be bound by such a shallow reason,
but because she was a simple, good and pure-minded woman, and sought by
her example to make a protest against the scandalous and degraded lives
led by many of the soldier officers and officials with whom she and her
children were brought in almost daily contact, for my father, being
an all too generous man, kept open house. But although she was always
sweet-tempered and sometimes merry with the hard-drinking old Peninsular
veterans, and the noisy and swaggering subalterns of the ill-famed 102nd
Regiment (or New South Wales Corps), she always shuddered and looked
pale and ill at ease when she saw among my father's guests the coarse,
stern face of the minister, and her dislike of the clergyman was shared
by all we children, especially by my elder brother Harry (then sixteen
years of age), who called him 'the flogging parson' and the 'Reverend
Diabolical Howl.' This latter nickname stuck, and greatly tickled Major
Trenton, who repeated it to the other officers, and one day young Mr
Moore of the 102nd, who was clever at such things, made a sketch of
the cleric as he appeared when preaching, which set them all a-laughing

'God alive!' cried old Major Trenton, holding the picture in his left
hand, and bringing down his right upon the table with a thump that set
all the glasses jingling, ''tis a perfect likeness of him, and yet,
Moore, if ye had but given him a judge's wig and robes instead of a
cassock, he would be the double of damned old hanging Norbury up there,'
pointing to the picture of an Irish judge which hung on the wall.
'Come,' he added, 'Mrs Egerton must see this. I know our hostess loves
the gentle parson.'

So three or four of them, still laughing boisterously, left the table to
look for my mother, whom they found sitting on the latticed-in verandah,
which on hot summer days was used as a drawing-room. She, too, laughed
heartily at the sketch, and said 'twas wonderfully drawn, and then
my brother Harry asked Mr Moore to give it to him. This the young
lieutenant did, though my mother begged him to destroy it, lest Mr
Sampson should hear of the matter and take offence. But my brother
promised her not to let it go out of his keeping, and there the thing
ended--so we thought.

Yet, in some way, my mother's convict and free servants came to hear of
the picture--they had already bandied about the parson's nickname--and
every one of them, on some cunning excuse, had come to my brother's room
and laughed at the drawing; and very often when they saw the clergyman
riding past the house, attended by his convict orderly, they would say,
with an added curse, 'There goes "Diabolical Howl,'" for they all hated
the man, because, being a magistrate as well as a minister, he had
sentenced many a prisoner to a dreadful flogging and had watched it
being administered.

But perhaps it was not altogether on account of the floggings in which
he so believed for which he was so detested--for floggings were common
enough for even small breaches of the regulations of the System--but
for the spiritual admonition with which he dosed them afterwards, while
their backs were still black and bloody from the cat. Once, when an old
convict named Callaghan was detected stealing some sugar belonging to
one of the pilot boat's crew, my mother went to Dr Parsons, who, with
the Reverend Mr Sampson, was to hear the charge against Callaghan on the
following morning, and begged him not to have the man flogged; and Tom
King, the man from whom the sugar was stolen, went with her and joined
his pleadings to hers.

'Now, come, doctor,' said my mother, placing her hand on the old
officer's arm and smiling into his face, 'you _must_ grant me this
favour. The man is far too old to be flogged. And then he was a soldier
himself once--he was a drummer boy, so he once told me, in the 4th

'The most rascally regiment in the service, madam. Every one of them
deserved hanging. But,' and here his tone changed from good-humoured
banter into sincerity, 'I honour you, Mrs Egerton, for your humanity.
The man is over sixty, and I promise you that he shall not be flogged.
Why, he is scarce recovered yet from the punishment inflicted on him for
stealing Major Innes's goose. But yet he is a terrible old rascal.'

'Never mind that,' said my mother, laughing. 'Major Innes should keep
his geese from straying about at night-time. And then, doctor, you
must remember that poor Callaghan said that he mistook the bird for a
pelican--it being dark when he killed it.'

'Ha, ha,' laughed the doctor, 'and no doubt Mr Patrick Callaghan only
discovered his mistake when he was cooking his pelican, and noticed its
remarkably short bill.'

My mother left, well pleased, but on the following morning, while we
were at our mid-day meal, she was much distressed to hear that old
Callaghan had received fifty lashes after all--the good doctor had been
thrown from his horse and so much hurt that he was unable to attend the
court, and another magistrate--a creature of Mr Sampson's--had taken his
place. The news was brought to us by Thomas King, and my mother's pale
face flushed with anger as, bidding King to go into the kitchen and get
some dinner, she turned to my father (who took but little heed of such a
simple thing as the flogging of a convict), and said hotly,--

''Tis shameful that such cruelty can be perpetrated! I shall write to
the Governor himself--he is a just and humane man--oh, it is wicked,
wicked,' and then she covered her face with her hands and sobbed aloud.

My father was silent. He detested the parson most heartily, but was too
cautious a man, in regard to his own interest, to give open expression
to his opinions, so beyond muttering something to my brother Harry about
Thomas King having no business to distress her, he was about to rise
from the table, when a servant announced that the Reverend Mr Sampson
wished to see him.

The mention of the clergyman's name seemed to transform my mother into
another woman. Quickly, but gently, putting aside my sister Frances,
whose loving arms were clasped around her waist, she rose, and fire
flashed in her eyes as she said to the servant,--

'Denham, tell Mr Sampson that I desire to speak with him as soon as he
has finished his business with Mr Egerton.'

My father went out to the drawing-room, where the clergyman awaited him,
and for the next ten minutes or so my mother walked quickly to and fro
in the dining-room, bidding us remain seated, and in a harsh, unnatural
tone to one so sweet and gentle, she told the servants who waited to

'Mr Sampson is at your service, madam,' said Denham, opening the door.

'Show him in here,' said my mother, sharply, and her always pale face
grew paler still.

The clergyman entered, and extended his fat, white hand to her; she drew
back and bowed coldly.

'I do not desire to shake hands with you, sir.'

Mr Sampson's red face flushed purple.

'I do not understand you, madam. Is this a jest--or do you forget who I

'I shall try to make you understand me, Mr Sampson, in as few words
as possible. I do not jest, and I do not forget who you are. I have a
request to make.'

'Indeed! I feel honoured, madam,' and the corners of the clergyman's
thick lips turned contemptuously down--'and that is--?'

'That you will cease your visits to this house. It would be painful
indeed to me to receive you as a guest from this time forth, for this
very day it is my intention to write to the Governor and acquaint
him with the shocking act of cruelty committed this morning--'twas a
shameful, cruel deed to flog an old man so cruelly.'

Mr Sampson's face was now livid with the rage he could not suppress.

'Beware, madam, of what you say or do. 'Tis a pretty example you set
your children to thus insult a clergyman.'

My mother's answer cut like a whip-lash. 'A clergyman such as you,
Mr Sampson, can inspire naught in their childish minds but fear and
abhorrence,' and then she pulled the bell cord so violently that not
only Denham but my father entered as well.

'Show Mr Sampson out,' she said in accents of mingled anger and
scorn, and then turning to the window nearest, she seemed to be gazing
unconcernedly upon the blue expanse of ocean before her; but her little
hands were clasped tightly together, and her whole frame trembled with

As soon as the clergyman had mounted his horse and ridden off, my father
returned to the dining-room.

'You have made a bitter enemy of a man who can do me much harm,' he
began; but something in my mother's face made him cease from further
reproaches, and he added lightly, that he hoped 'twould soon blow over.

'Charles,' said my mother, who was now herself again, 'it must _not_
blow over. The Governor shall know of this man's doings. And never again
shall I or my children enter the church when he preaches. To-night,
I suppose, he will visit that wretched old man--the victim of his
brutality--and administer "spiritual admonition." Come, children, let us
go to the beach and forget that that dreadful man has been here.'

It was, I think, this practice of 'administering admonition' to convicts
after he had had them sentenced to a severe flogging that first gave my
mother such an utter abhorrence of the man, together with his habit of
confining his sermons to the prisoners to the one subject--their own
criminal natures and the terrors of hell-fire everlasting. Then, too,
his voice was appalling to hear, for he had a way of suddenly dropping
his harsh, metallic tones, and raising his voice to a howl, like to that
of a hungry dingo.{*}

* The native dog of Australia, whose long, accentuated howl
is most distressing to hear.

Often did I, when sitting in our great square pew in that dreadful,
horrible church, press close to my mother's side and bury my face in her
dress, as he lashed himself into a fury and called down the vengeance of
a wrathful God upon the rows of silent, wretched beings clad in yellow,
who were seated on long stools in the back of the church, guarded by
soldiers, who, with loaded muskets, were stationed in the gallery
above. Some of the convicts, it was said, had sworn to murder him if an
opportunity served, and this no doubt made him the more merciless and
vindictive to any one of them who was so unfortunate as to be charged
before him in his capacity of magistrate. By the Regulations he could
not sit alone to deal out punishment, and sometimes had difficulty
in finding a colleague, especially among the military men, who nearly
always protested against his fondness for the cat; but there were always
to be found, in the end, magistrates who would do anything to please
him, for it was known that he had great influence with the Home
Government, and was not chary of using it on behalf of those who
truckled to him, if he so inclined; and, indeed, both Major Trenton and
Dr Parsons said that he was a man with many good points, and could be,
to those who pleased him, a good friend, as well as a bitter enemy to
those who in any way crossed him. But they asserted that he should never
have been appointed a magistrate in a colony where the penal laws gave
such latitude to his violent temper and arbitrary disposition.

Early one morning in December, and three months after the drawing of
the picture by Lieutenant Moore, my two brothers and myself set off on
a fishing excursion to a tidal lagoon whose waters debouched into the
Pacific, about fifteen miles southward from the little township. Behind
us followed a young man named Walter Trenfield, who was one of my
father's assigned servants, and an aboriginal named 'King Billy';
these two carried our provisions, cooking utensils and blankets, for we
intended to camp out for two or three days.

A half-an-hour's walk over the slopes of the bluff brought us to the
fringe of the dense coastal forest, through which our track lay for
another two or three miles before we again came to open country. There
was, however, a very good road, made by convict labour, through the
scrub as far as it went; it ran almost along the very verge of the
steep-to coast, and as we tramped over the rich red soil we had the
bright blue sea beneath us on our left, and the dark and almost silent
bush on our right. I say 'almost,' for although in these moist and
sunless seaboard tracts of what we Australian-born people call bush, and
English people would call wood or forest, there was no sound of human
life, there was yet always to be heard the _thump, thump_ of the
frightened scrub wallaby, and now and again the harsh, shrieking note of
the great white cockatoo, or the quick rush of a long-tailed iguana over
the thick bed of leaves, as the timid reptile fled to the nearest tree,
up whose rugged bole it crawled for security.

We had come some three or four miles upon our way, when we suddenly
emerged from the darkness and stillness of the scrub out into the light
of day and the bright sunshine, and heard the low murmur of the surf
beating upon the rocks below. Here we sat down to rest awhile and feast
our boyish eyes on the beauties of sea and shore and sky around us.
A few hundred yards away from where we sat was a round, verdured cone
called 'Little Nobby'; it rose steep-to from the sea to a height of
about three hundred feet, and formed a very striking and distinct
landmark upon that part of the coast--bold and rugged as it was--for
a stretch of three score miles. Presently, as we lay upon the grass,
looking out upon the sea, Walter Trenfield and the aboriginal joined us,
and whilst they made a fire to boil a billy of tea, my brother Harry,
hearing the call of a wonga pigeon, picked up his gun and went into the
scrub to shoot it.


I must now relate something of the previous history of this young
man Trenfield. He was a native of Bideford, in Devon--my mother's
county--and had been a sailor. Some years before, he, with another young
man named Thomas May, had been concerned in a mutiny on board a London
whale-ship, the _Jason_, and both men were sentenced to fourteen years'
penal servitude, it being believed, though not proven, that either
Trenfield or May had killed one of the officers with a blow of the fist.
They were, with six of their shipmates, tried at the Old Bailey, and
although a Quaker gentleman, a Mr Robert Bent, who had visited them in
prison, gave a lawyer fifty guineas to defend them, the judge said that
although the death of the officer could not be sheeted home to either of
them, there was no doubt of their taking part in the mutiny--with which
offence they were charged. After spending three months in one of the
convict hulks they were sent out to Sydney in the _Breckenbridge_
transport. But before they sailed they were several times visited by Mr
Bent, who told them that he would always bear them in mind, and should
endeavour to have their sentences reduced if he heard good word of their
future conduct from his agent in Sydney; this Mr Bent was the owner of
several of the Government transports, which, after discharging their
cargo of convicts, would sail upon a whaling cruise to the South Seas.
More than this, he said that he would give them berths on one of his
vessels as soon as they regained their freedom, and that he had written
to his agent to that effect.

It so happened that this agent, a Mr Thomas Campbell, was a friend of my
father's, who also knew Mr Bent, and so when the _Breckenbridge_ arrived
at Sydney he succeeded in having Trenfield assigned to him, and Thomas
May to a contractor who was building a bridge for the Government over a
river in the vicinity of Bar Harbour.

The two young seamen were very much attached to each other, and their
cheerful dispositions, good conduct and unceasing industry led to their
being granted many privileges. Both my father and my mother had taken
a strong liking to Trenfield; and so, too, had Ruth Kenna, a young
free female servant of ours. As for we boys, we simply worshipped both
Trenfield and May as heroes who had sailed in the far South Seas and
harpooned and killed the mighty sperm whale, and had fought with the
wild and naked savages of the Pacific Isles.

Ruth Kenna was the daughter of a small farmer in the district, who had
been emancipated by the good Governor. He was a widower, and a rough,
taciturn man, but passionately devoted to Ruth, who was his only child.
He had been transported for having taken part in the disastrous Irish
rebellion of '98,' and his young wife had followed him to share his
exile. The terrors and hardships of the long voyage out killed her, for
she died almost as soon as she landed, without seeing her husband,
and leaving her infant child to the kindly care of the officers of the
detachment of the regiment which had come out in the same ship. By them
the infant girl had been placed in the charge of a respectable female
convict, who, at my mother's expense, had kept her till she was ten
years of age. Then she came to us as a servant, and had remained ever

Very often my father--though he pretended, as became his official
position in a Crown Colony, to have a great dislike to Irish Roman
Catholics--would allow we boys to go to Patrick Kenna's farm to shoot
native bears and opossums, which were very plentiful thereabout, for
the land was very thickly timbered with blue gum, tallow-wood and native

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Library mainpage -> Becke, Louis -> Rídan The Devil And Other Stories 1899