Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/351

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319
INFANTICIDE.

slightest shame, of having put to death half-a-dozen helpless innocents, while some confessed to ten or twelve; and when the missionaries and their wives implored these women to spare their little ones, yet unborn, their words were heard with derision, and the cruel mothers would return to boast how they had obeyed the custom of the isles, in defiance of white men's counsel.

Afterwards, when these same women had become Christians, they would come to the school festivals, at which were sometimes gathered several hundred happy children, whose lives had been spared in obedience to a better law; and often, with bitter tears, did these childless mothers bewail their own dead offspring, murdered by their own hands. At one such meeting, a venerable chief arose to address the people, and show, by contrast with the past, how great was their present gain. Pointing to a troop of comely lads and lasses, he said: "Large was my family, but I alone remain. I am the father of nineteen children; all of them I have murdered: now my heart longs for them. Had I spared them, they would now have been men and women, knowing the word of the true God. But all died in the service of the false gods, and now my heart is repenting—is weeping for them."

One of the chief women, who, having learnt to read at the age of sixty, had proved a most useful school-teacher, was bitterly troubled in the hour of death by the thought of her sixteen children, every one of whom she had herself put to death. But there was scarcely a woman who had attained middle age ere the spread of Christianity, who was not haunted by the same sad memories; and one visitor to Tahiti has recorded his amazement when, on his expressing his belief that statements had been exaggerated, his friend appealed to three most respectable, motherly-looking women, who chanced to be sitting in the room quietly sewing, and quite at random, asked each in turn how many of her children she had killed. With shame and evident pain, the first, with faltering voice, replied, "I have destroyed nine;" the second said she had killed five; the third had killed seven. So that these three women casually selected, had killed twenty-one children!

It seems scarcely credible that such deeds were perpetrated by