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O’s Head
by [?]

“Fourteen by one count,” I said; “twenty-two by another.”

“Gabtain,” said he with a look of extraordinary gravity, “dere’s worse nor that!”

“Worse?” I said.

“I have it straight from Papalangi Mativa himself.”

“Have what?” I asked.

“Excellency,” said Papalangi Mativa, “perhaps it is not high-chief-known to thee that I and mine come from a noble Savai’i stock, and that the son of my mother’s sister, a stripling named O, numbered himself among the enemy and was to-day killed and his head taken on the field of Vaitele.”

Aue! ” I said, which in Kanaka is being sympathetic.

“Dat is not all,” said Silver Tongue. “Listen, gabtain!”

“I’m listening,” I said.

“The warrior that killed O was To’oto’o, the matai,” continued Papalangi Mativa with the air of one announcing the end of the world.

“To’oto’o!” I said in all innocence.

“To’oto’o,” cried Silver Tongue; “why, Rosalie’s uncle, the faipule, in whose house this very minute the head of my murdered relation lies!”

“‘Pon my soul,” I exclaimed, “this is really unfortunate!”

“Unfordunate!” cried Silver Tongue; “is it with such a word you describe two hearts broken, two lives plasted, the fairest prospect with suddenly crash the curdain led down!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “It’s disagreeable, I admit, but I can’t see what difference it can make to you and Rosalie.”

“An Oppenstedt,” said Silver Tongue, “could never indermarry with the family of a murderer, and least of all with a family that had the head of my dead wife’s relation cut off and carried with gapers and cries of joy down the main street of Apia and past my place of peeziness!”

“Do you mean to say it’s all off with you and Rosalie?” I demanded.

Silver Tongue nodded grimly. “All off,” he said.

“And you’re going to break my girl’s heart,” I cried with what I think, under the circumstances, was a very justifiable indignation, “because the son of the aunt of your father-in-law has had his head cut off by poor Rosalie’s adopted uncle?”

“That’s right,” said Silver Tongue.

“Old friend,” I said, “let me go before I say something I might regret.” I got up without waiting for any answer and strode into the street, too consumed with anger to utter another word. I walked along the beach, stopping here and there to discuss the news of the battle with those of my friends I happened to meet, until at last I passed Savalalo and drew near To’oto’o’s house at Songi. Rosalie was standing at the gate, and when she saw me she ran up, threw her arms round my neck and kissed me. I had never known her so excited or so gay, and even in the dark I could see that her beautiful eyes were shining.

“Captain,” she said, giving me a hug, “nobody will ever say a word against To’oto’o again, or try to belittle him as they used to, just because he’s poor and lives on Seu’s land, for to-day he fought like a lion and covered himself with glory!”

“Took a head, or something?” I said.

“A hero!” she exclaimed. “They are composing a song in his honor; all Songi is ringing with his name; and he was complimented for his valor by the President and Chief Justice! You must come in and see it at once.”

“See what?” I asked.

“The head!” she cried.

* * * * *

I haven’t the heart to write how the news was broken to Rosalie, who steadfastly refused to believe the truth until she had heard it from Silver Tongue himself. I had hoped he might relent, with a night to think it over and a letter from myself in the morning pointing out his injustice and folly. Perhaps, now I remember it, that letter was a mistake. It was a trifle warm in spots, and I dare say I let a natural irritation get the better of me. Be that as it may, Oppenstedt was deaf to reason and protested with undiminished vehemence that he refused to ally himself with the family of a murderer. Indeed, so ridiculous did he get on the subject that he sent to Sydney for a tombstone (I daren’t write headstone, though it was one, about the size of a silk hat) and put it behind the bakery above the spot where O’s head was buried in a gin case.