We now gave ourselves up for lost, when suddenly out of the sea rose another huge bulk, resembling the sea-spider which had carried off poor Moira, but ten times larger, when a combat ensued between the leviathans which created waves around our vessel, and caused her to rock and plunge as in a storm. The battle raged for the best part of an hour, and sometimes when the monsters came near it seemed likely that the ship would be swamped by the volume of water which they lashed into the air. Suddenly the combat terminated by both monsters disappearing into the depths without our being able to ascertain which had proved the victor.
So that some record of this remarkable combat might be preserved, I set down upon paper a description of it, intending to deposit it among the public archives on my return home. I had read that such leviathans existed, and had been seen by early Phoenician mariners, though I had always regarded their existence more in the light of fable titan fact.
And now, a breeze springing up, we were once more enabled to continue our voyage. Some of the crew were anxious to return home in order to spend their share of the Spanish money found on Cortes' island, but Hartog would not consent to such a proposal. He had set his heart upon finding the Island of Gems, of the existence of which he was firmly convinced, though our chances of finding it among the numerous islands of the South Seas appeared remote. The captain, however, would have his way, and a course was set accordingly. We were soon again among the islands, where we found the people more intelligent than those upon the continent of New Holland. Their language, although consisting of many dialects, possessed some universal key words, of which, by this time, I had acquired a knowledge which enabled me to make myself understood of the various tribes of savages we met with, and to understand also their meaning when they wanted to convey it to us. To this I attributed the friendly reception which, on the whole, was given to us. Attacks upon strangers, made by these savages, are not so much from any natural hostility towards them as from an inability to understand that they intend no harm—consequently I was generally able to establish friendly intercourse between us and the tribes we visited. Besides this, our ship possessed such a powerful armament that, if molested, we had no fear but that we would be able to protect ourselves.
We made many inquiries from the savages concerning the Island of Gems, but none seemed to have heard of it.
THE FLOATING ISLAND
Soon after leaving the islands of the South Seas we encountered heavy weather, a tempest, the worst we had experienced, driving us before it to the south. The storm lasted for more than a week without abatement, and during this time we covered many leagues of sea. Owing to the sun being obscured, it was impossible to ascertain our whereabouts, but Hartog reckoned we had passed through the Straits set down on an early chart as named after Le Maire. But for skilful handling we would have lost our ship, so prolonged was the gale, and when, at length, the weather moderated, we found that much damage had been done to our rigging and deck-gear. This made it necessary for us to effect repairs, and while so engaged we continued to run before the wind to the south. As we proceeded, the cold became intense, while the wind gradually decreased. One morning, at sunrise, a snow-covered land rose before our astonished eyes. The sun shining upon it produced an effect which, for beauty, I had never seen, equalled. Immense ranges of mountains rose from a flat surface, their summits lost in fleecy clouds, while from one of the mountain tops, incredible as it may appear, belched smoke and fire as from the crater of an active volcano. It may well be believed with what astonishment we beheld a burning mountain in the midst of snow and ice. We coasted for some distance along the shore of this new continent, which formed an ice barrier rising in a long perpendicular line from the sea, making a landing impossible.
When the repairs to our ship had been effected, we hauled our wind, and stood away northward, when we found ourselves surrounded by masses of floating ice. In no record of any voyage that Hartog or I knew of is any mention made of this phenomenon, so we concluded we were the first to see it. The farther we went the more numerous became the icebergs, and the more difficult the navigation owing to fogs and mists. The whole surface of the water as far as the eye could reach was covered by dense masses of ice, and had not the breeze freshened so that we were able to avoid the ice pack, we might never have made our way to the open sea. Some of the icebergs were beautifully formed, and the countless prisms of which they were composed glowed in the sun's rays with the delicate colour of the rainbow.
Next day the wind had fallen to a calm, and we rode upon a sea of glass. We had left the pack ice, but before us stretched an island of such extent that the end of it could not be seen. This island rose to the height of twenty feet. It was perfectly flat, with steep, perpendicular sides, which made it inaccessible to man. From the masthead, however, it was possible to observe its surface, which we saw to be covered by a vast number of penguins, so we knew a landing must be available somewhere, for these birds are wingless. This island was composed entirely of ice, it being, as Hartog reckoned, a glacier which had broken off from the main continent into the sea. It was drifting north, and would gradually melt in the warmer atmosphere to which the current was taking it, but many years must elapse before this would happen.
That evening we remained in the vicinity of the island. The twilight of this region in which we now found ourselves continued without fading into night, and to add to the beauty of the scene an aureola appeared in the sky. It was a sight, once seen, never to be forgotten. A world of perpetual day.
With the return of sunlight Hartog determined, if possible, to effect a landing, and leaving the "Arms of Amsterdam" in charge of Janstins, the cutter was manned, in which the captain and I set out for the shore. After pulling for some distance; and when almost out of sight of our ship, we came to a kind of platform where the ice was broken, making it possible to climb to the top of the island. We had no sooner set foot there than we were surrounded by penguins. They came waddling towards us in the most comical fashion, nor were they in the least afraid of us. The presence of man for the first time in these latitudes appeared to inspire them more with curiosity than alarm.
The attentions shown us by these remarkable birds, however, soon caused us considerable inconvenience. They crowded upon us in such numbers that it was difficult to force our way through them, either farther on to the island or back to the boat. Some of them stood four feet high, and although they made no attempt to molest us, the bulk of their bodies (the ones at the back pressing upon those in front) made it difficult to push by. It was like passing along a densely-crowded thoroughfare. So numerous became the penguins that Hartog ordered a return to the boat. We did not like to kill these birds, as they appeared harmless, and the trust they showed in us was surprising. When we came to the landing place we found it covered with small fur-coated seals, who also showed no fear of us, and made no attempt to escape when we approached them. The skins of these creatures we knew to be rare and of value, so we were impelled to slaughter some of them for their fur coats, and also to give us a supply of fresh meat; but their large brown eyes looked at us so sorrowfully when we attacked them that we had not the heart to kill more than was necessary for our immediate needs. It was too much like murder.
The penguins followed us down to the landing-place, until it was full to overflowing. Some of the birds pushed the others into the water in their eagerness to witness the killing of the seals, which they appeared to be discussing with much interest.
A breeze springing up, we returned to the ship, and toward evening, still steering northward, the floating island was lost to view.
We were now in better spirits than heretofore. We had filled our water tanks from the ice floes, and supplied ourselves with sufficient fresh seal meat to last until we came to a warmer climate, to begin again our search for the Island of Gems. The men we had with us upon this voyage were a better class than were the crew of the "Endraght", and we had no fear of mutiny. There were grumblings occasionally at the length of the voyage, but these vanished at each fresh adventure. Sailors, as a rule, are easily led, and if there is no evil influence at work among them they seldom incline to mutiny when they know that the safety of all depends upon discipline and obedience to the captain's orders.
AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
Most of the islands we visited on our return to the South Seas we found to be inhabited. But some, although well-wooded, and possessing a luxuriant vegetation, were unoccupied except by sea-fowl. It was toward one of these islands we now directed our course in order to fill our water tanks, when we observed a solitary figure upon the beach whose hair and beard hung down in a tangled mass upon his chest and shoulders, while the skins of some small fur-coated animal, roughly sewn together, made him a covering for his body unlike any we had seen adopted by savage tribes. His attitude, moreover, as he stood upon the beach, shading his eyes and gazing intently at us as we rowed towards the shore, suggested the European rather than, the savage, and upon coming close up to him we knew him to be some castaway marooned upon the island. He appeared to have lost the power of speech, although he made guttural sounds when he saw us, and, what was more remarkable, he seemed to recognize us.
It then came to me in a flash that this solitary man was none other than Van Luck, whom we had last seen drifting away from the "Endraght" upon his lonely voyage after the mutiny, and, in pity at the sight of his forlorn condition, I held out my hand to him in reconciliation. So great, however, was his hatred of me, which he had probably nursed, that, instead of taking my hand, he rushed upon me and tried to strangle me, in which he might have succeeded had not others of our party come to my assistance. He seemed demented, and he had acquired such strength during his exile that it was as much as four men could do to hold him down. But, notwithstanding his unprovoked attack upon me, I felt I could not abandon him again to his solitude. I therefore ordered him to be taken on board our vessel, where Hartog would be the judge of his ultimate fate.
Hartog's surprise at seeing his old officer in such a deplorable condition was equal to my own, but the terrible change which years of solitude had wrought in Van Luck appealed to the humane side of the captain's nature so forcibly that he determined to give the castaway a chance of redemption.
After some days, during which Van Luck was cared for, he began to regain some semblance to his former self. He also, by degrees, remembered his native tongue, but he spoke in a halting manner like a child. While we remained at this island we visited the cave in which Van Luck had lived during the time he had been marooned. It contained nothing belonging to the boat in which he had been set adrift, from which we inferred the boat had been lost at the time when he was washed ashore. He seemed to have subsisted chiefly upon turtles, of which there were numbers basking upon the beach, and also upon a small species of squirrel, of the skins of which, roughly sewn together, his robe was made, but we could find no sign of a fire, so we concluded he had devoured his food raw. There were streams and springs on the islands from which to quench his thirst, but his sufferings must have been very severe during his enforced solitude, nor was it a matter for wonder that his mind had become deranged.
But although Hartog took pity upon Van Luck to the extent of taking him off the island, he would not admit him to his old place in the cabin at the officers' mess, so he lived with the seamen in the forecastle, where his jealousy wanted to send me on our first voyage. This, however, did not seem to trouble him. He seldom spoke, but went about such work as was given him without complaint. Sometimes he would stand for hours watching the sea, with his hand shading his eyes, in the same attitude as we had found him.
I could see that Hartog was troubled by this man's appearance, as indeed was I also. It seemed a reproach to us to have been the means of bringing a fellow-creature into such a condition. Yet we had acted as necessity demanded and in no spirit of malice or revenge. Still, the consequences which had sprung from my fight with Van Luck and his subsequent part in the mutiny were not such as we cared to contemplate. If judges could see those whom they sentence after they have endured their punishment they would pause before passing fresh sentences upon wrongdoers, however guilty.
I could see that Van Luck attributed to me all his misfortunes, for he watched me closely, but when I spoke to him he shifted his gaze uneasily, as though afraid to look me in the face. I can honestly say I felt nothing but pity for him, and I made allowance for his animosity toward me when I remembered his cruel punishment.
"Of a truth, Peter," said Hartog to me one evening when we sat together in the cabin, "I had better have shot Van Luck than let him live to become what he is. Never again will I send a man adrift upon such a voyage, though by all the rules of the sea the mutinous dog deserved what he got for his treachery. It was not his fault that you and I were not marooned instead of him."
I did not answer, but had I then known the malice in Van, Luck toward me, of which I shall hereafter tell, the compassion which I felt for him would have been lessened.
THE SEAWEED SEA
Of all the adventures through which we had passed, perhaps there was none so dangerous as that which now befell us. We had shaped our course to the east, on the look-out for a new group of islands, among which Hartog expected to find the Island of Gems, when, one morning, we observed the horizon to have assumed a black look as though a storm was brewing, but on nearing this phenomenon, we found it to consist of an immense growth of seaweed floating upon the ocean, and extending as far as the eye could reach.
The course we were steering would have carried us into the midst of the weed, so we hauled our wind, and coasted along it to the south, hoping either to find an opening through which we might pass, or to come to the end of the floating mass, but the farther we proceeded the thicker the weed became, while other masses now appeared to larboard, so that we feared we might be enmeshed in such a manner that we would find it impossible to extricate ourselves. I had read of a sea covered by a weed which held ships entangled as in a net, and I feared that this was the danger into which fate had now led us. Portions of the kelp detached from the main mass, which floated alongside the ship, proved it to be a growth of extraordinary strength, the weed extending twenty feet and more below the surface of the water, and being so tough that two of our men between them were unable to break a specimen we drew on board, so that if we should become entangled in the kelp, we knew that death by slow starvation, when our provisions were exhausted, would await us.
During the day upon which we first sighted this phenomenon we attempted every manoeuvre of navigation to keep the ship clear of the weed, but in spite of all we could do, and the ceaseless watch Hartog and I between us kept on deck, the dawn of the next day found the ship as stationary as though we had run ashore.
"Nothing but a gale from the right quarter can save us, Peter," said Hartog when we held a consultation together in the cabin, "and even a gale will not help us unless it comes soon and before the weed gathers."
I knew what he said was plain truth, yet I advised we should keep a brave face before the men, as nothing would be gained by provoking a scare.
Notwithstanding our assumed cheerfulness, however, we could see the crew were becoming alarmed, and as each day added to the accumulation of the weed which collected between us and the open sea, anxious looks were turned to the horizon in the hope of detecting the long-expected breeze.
So as to give the men occupation, and prevent their brooding, Hartog gave directions to man the boats in order that an attempt might be made to tow the ship through the weed, but after two days' fruitless effort the attempt was abandoned. It was dreadful to contemplate our impotence in the face of this danger, which hourly grew upon us. The seaweed, in itself so harmless that it becomes the sport of children when washed ashore upon the beaches at home, here, in its original and monstrous growth became more terrifying than all the Leviathans of the deep. There was something irresistible in this brown mantle which drew its folds so silently and yet so surely around us that even Dirk Hartog's indomitable spirit quailed at the thought of what might be before us. "What demon led us hither, Peter?" he said to me when a week had passed, and we still rode motionless in the grip of the seaweed. "Of all the perils which mariners must face, whoever heard of a ship's company being brought to their doom by floating kelp?"
I told him of the sea of which I had read, and which I believed we had come to. He listened to me with patience, and then relapsed into a reverie, from which I found it impossible to arouse him.
On coming on deck I detected Van Luck at his old game of sowing discord among the men. They did not, however, appear to pay much attention to what he said. He had now no authority over them, and none but Janstins and Bantum, who were with us on this second voyage, remembered him as the first officer of the "Endraght". The ingratitude of the man, however, after the consideration we had shown him, angered me, and I spoke to him roughly, and ordered him to quit the deck.
"Take heed," I warned him, "that I do not have you put in irons, or sent adrift upon a second voyage."
Van Luck obeyed me with a scowl, and slunk below, but I could see an evil light in his eyes which I attributed to madness, though I was subsequently to learn there was much method in it. I did not like to add to Hartog's anxieties by telling him of Van Luck's conduct, and, indeed, when I considered our present predicament, it seemed unlikely that Van Luck, or anybody else, could do us much harm or good.
And now another event occurred to add to our perplexities. The kelp around the vessel suddenly became alive with a small species of black crab. These creatures must have scented the food from our vessel, and they came in millions to besiege us in order to devour it. The deck was soon black with them, and they swarmed below in ever-increasing numbers. Nothing escaped them, and most of our provisions were quickly demolished. We killed them in thousands, and the stench from their crushed bodies almost drove us out of our minds, but other thousands quickly filled their places, and the crustaceans continued to pour down the hatches like black streams of evil-smelling water.
But this visitation, dreadful though it was, eventually proved our salvation. The weed, now alive with marine life, lost its density, and when, at length, the breeze came, we could feel we were making headway. But had we not been able to force our passage into the open I verily believe we would all have been devoured alive by black crabs, which swarmed upon us. As it was, many of the men suffered severely from the bites of these creatures, and weeks elapsed before the ship was clear of them and the stench which they had brought aboard. But when the breeze freshened from the right quarter, and we felt our vessel moving toward the open sea, we were too thankful for our escape from a horrible death to think of the lesser evils from which we suffered, though the destruction of such a considerable quantity of our stores was a serious loss, and set Hartog thinking as to whether our immediate return to Amsterdam was not imperative.
"I had made up my mind for another year in these latitudes, Peter," he said, "and I am loath to go back without setting foot upon the Island of Gems, but man is but a straw in the hands of Destiny, and who am I to set myself against the decrees of Fate?" So with mixed feelings of disappointment and pleasure we once more found ourselves homeward bound.
I had hoped that from this voyage I might return a rich man, able to make honourable proposals to Count Holstein for his daughter's hand, but it seemed now that fortune was not to be won so easily. My share of the treasure found on Cortes' island might enrich me sufficiently to buy a small interest in my master's business, but this was all I could hope for, and the bright dreams which Hartog and I had formed of the Island of Gems seemed about to dissolve, as is the way with phantoms, into thin air.
But who can trace the course of Destiny, or fathom the mysteries of Fate?
THE ISLAND OF GEMS
For some weeks after getting free from the kelp we experienced fine weather, with favourable winds and a smooth sea, when, almost without warning, a storm broke upon us with hurricane force. All hands were ordered to shorten sail, no easy task in the fury of a gale. As chief officer I took command in the fore part of the vessel, while Hartog issued his orders aft. The sea ran so high, often breaking over the bows and swamping the decks, that I ordered the men to attach themselves by lifelines to the foremast, and I also secured myself in the same way. As sometimes happens at sea in the heart of a storm, a succession of rollers followed each other, making it impossible to do more than hang on until they pass, and during one of these intervals I observed Van Luck, whose presence I had forgotten in the hurry of the moment, standing by the foremast with a knife in his hand. I was powerless to reach him from where I stood, and a moment later the lifeline which held me to the foremast was severed, when, despite a desperate effort which I made to retain my hold, I was swept into the sea.
For a time, which seemed to me an eternity, I was under water, but when I rose to the surface I could see the ship at some distance from me, fighting her way through the storm. I was almost suffocated by the spray which continually blew over me, and the heavy sea boots which I wore, filling with water, threatened to drag me down. I had given myself up for lost, when I noticed a spar floating near, which must have been washed overboard with me, and, making an effort, I succeeded in laying hold of it, so that I managed to keep afloat. Thus holding to the spar and swimming, sometimes with one hand and sometimes with the other, I kept my head above water until my feet touched ground, when I waded upon the shore of an island, where I fell down exhausted, and for the time lost consciousness.
When I came to myself it was almost dark. I had fortunately been carried by a current upon the leeside of the island, so that I was protected from the wind and sea, but my limbs felt numb and cold, while the blood coursed feebly in my veins. I felt too weary to move, and presently I fell asleep, from which I awoke, as I judged, about midnight, much refreshed.
I was now once more haunted by the thought of being marooned in a strange country, so that I remained awake, bemoaning my fate and blaming myself for not having taken better precautions against such a mishap. These reflections led me so far that I began to form a project against my life, but the dawn dissipated my gloomy ideas, when I made up my mind to trust to Providence, which had protected me through so many perils.
I then mounted the high land to scan the horizon, but no sign of the ship could I see, so I knew myself to be again a castaway. The island appeared to be one of considerable size, very fertile and well watered. The verdure inland was unusually luxuriant, even for the tropics. From the centre of the island rose a mountain, with a smoke-cloud banging upon it, which proved it to be an active volcano.
The storm had passed, and the weather was pleasant, the beat not excessive, being tempered with a land breeze. I descended after a while into a valley, where I noticed a number of fresh-water ponds, at one of which I knelt down to drink, when I perceived a prodigious quantity of bivalve shells of one single species, which formed a kind of beach, in breadth about fifteen feet. The water in the pond was clear, and although it was deep, the sand and shells at the bottom of it were easily seen.
Whilst I was admiring their beauties I was startled by the approach of a party of natives, the leader of whom, a tall, muscular savage, marched in front of the others, who followed him with some degree of order. From the crown of his head to his waist he was plastered with a red pigment, his frizzled-out hair being ornamented with the plumes of the bird of Paradise. His dress, composed of tapa cloth, shells, and feathers, was more elaborate than any I had seen in the islands. In his hand he carried a spear tipped with white quartz. His followers were decked in similar fashion. Raising his right arm in token of friendship, an overture to which I responded, the chief then addressed me in the same dialect to that used at Cortes' island, which I had little difficulty in understanding, although some of the words puzzled me.
"Whence come you?" said he. "From the sun or the sea?"
"From the sea, O chief, whither I will return when my friends, the white spirits, come for me," I answered.
This reply did not seem to surprise my interrogator, who now desired me to follow him. After proceeding for some distance through a luxuriant forest we came to what appeared to be the gates of a town. Two large perpendicular stones rose to the height of fourteen feet above the ground. These pillars must have been twelve feet through at the base, and five feet on top, while a still larger stone, some sixteen feet long and four feet thick, was mortised into the perpendicular columns. It was difficult to understand how such huge stones could be quarried and transported inland by a people possessing so few mechanical appliances as these savages, but to my inquiry regarding this curious gateway I was answered that the stones had been there as long as any could remember, having been placed in position by supernatural agency.
At the gate of the city crouched some miserable specimens of humanity: old men and women, haggard, shrivelled, and naked. These unfortunates, I afterwards learned, were the aged and infirm, too feeble to perform their share of the work of the tribe and condemned to remain at the gateway, dependent for food upon such charity as might be given them. On entering the town we passed a number of warriors, all fine, athletic men, dressed in the same style as those who accompanied us, and painted with stripes of red, yellow, and white pigment.
I was now received by a commanding figure, whom I took to be the king. He was even more gorgeously dressed than the others, with strings of bright stones round his neck and Paradise plumes in his hair, while upon his head was a circlet composed of human teeth, set in clay, in the centre of which glowed an opal of extraordinary fire. His face was sullen and cruel, and his hazel eyes, with their dark lashes and yellow-tinged whites, gave to his countenance an expression scarcely human. Near to him stood a group of young men, their bodies plastered with a bright red pigment, who appeared to be his personal attendants, or slaves.
This savage now addressed me, asking the same questions as the other chief, to which I returned similar answers. I was then led to a house with a beehive-shaped roof, where food was brought to me, consisting of coconuts and bananas, with a luscious kind of fruit I had never before tasted, but which I found very palatable. After my meal I was taken before the queen.
The queen was white—indeed very pale—with large dark eyes, and brown hair that hung down in its natural beauty, untouched by the pigments with which the savages convert their own hair into mops. She was dressed in a robe of white tapa cloth with strings of bright shells and gold ornaments upon her neck and arms. Upon her head was a diadem of white clay encrusted with uncut gems. The throne upon which she sat was of polished marble. Her left hand rested upon the woolly head of a black boy, who showed his white teeth as we entered. In her right hand she carried a human skull. The queen, though very beautiful, looked sad. She could not have been more than eighteen years old, and it was evident she came from European descent, and was in no way related to the savages by whom she was surrounded.
And now I bethought me if I would gain favour I must make a present to the queen, and remembering a small mirror I had with me, set in a silver frame, which Anna had given me as a parting gift, I took it from my pocket and presented it to Queen Melannie, the name by which her people addressed her. It cost me a pang to part with it, but I reflected that if these savages killed me, as seemed likely unless I could ingratiate myself with them, the mirror would, with equal certainty, pass into their hands as if I voluntarily surrendered it.
The queen uttered an exclamation of surprise when she caught sight of her face in the looking glass, nor could some of her attendants who stood near resist the temptation to look over her shoulder in order to see the reflection of their own faces also. Nothing that I could have given the queen would have pleased her more. My present at once brought me into favour, for all appeared to regard such a prodigy as the work of immortals.
Queen Melannie, having appropriated Anna's mirror, and finding I understood what she said to me, then dismissed her attendants and invited me to a private audience. I asked her how she, a white lady, came to be among savages, but she could tell me nothing except that she remembered standing upon the beach as a child, alone, when it was very cold, and that she cried very much, until the natives had brought her into this house, where she had been reared and cared for ever since.
"They tell me I was born of the sea," she said, "but I do not believe that, for I seem to remember other faces, like yours, before I came here."
It was then plain to me that this poor girl had been shipwrecked as a child, and cast upon this island. It was sad to think that one so beautiful should be condemned to live among savages, but I reflected that my own case was no better, for it seemed unlikely I would return to civilization. Melannie appeared to place full confidence in me from our first meeting.
"I am not really queen," she said. "Ackbau is king, and I must do as he tells me. He makes me speak his words, but sometimes I would rather not say what he bids me."
I sympathized with her, for I could readily understand why this Ackbau, who was the chief before whom I had been taken, chose her to be his mouthpiece. She had become a goddess to the tribe, and it was thought she could speak nothing wrong. So that by using her as his medium Ackbau gained his ends without accepting responsibility.
Whilst I was talking to the queen I could not help admiring the jewels in her diadem, and seeing I was pleased with them she invited me to accompany her to a rock cavern near to her dwelling, where I saw such an accumulation of wealth that I began to picture myself among the richest of men. The floor of this cave was carpeted with gold dust, and nuggets of the same precious metal were piled high against its walls. But what caused me to rub my eyes in wonder was a slab of opal, which seemed ablaze with the fire it contained. Upon this priceless table were strewn a collection of gems, which, from the knowledge I had acquired in De Decker's office at Amsterdam, I knew to be of great value, but which did not appear to be so regarded by the queen, for when she had presented me with a double handful she still seemed to consider herself in my debt for the mirror and some other trifles I had given her. I now knew that I had come to the Island of Gems of which Hartog had spoken. But, alas! of what use was all this wealth, since I could not spend it in this place, and it seemed improbable I would ever go back to my own country?
Melannie now returned to her dwelling, which I subsequently found she seldom left, except at night, which accounted for the fairness of her skin. All festivals were held at night, by moonlight, and what struck me as peculiar was the absence of fire. Fish and shellfish were eaten raw, but many subsisted entirely upon coconuts and fruit, which grew upon the island in great profusion.
The native city in which I now found myself consisted of a number of dwellings of beehive shape, thatched with grass, and usually about twelve feet high. The queen's house was about three times as large as the others, and was placed in the centre of the town, with an avenue of trees, and a clear space before it for tribal dances or meetings. Ackbau also lived in a large house. On the reserve around the queen's palace, the older men spent most of the day in gossiping, or playing upon reed pipes, which furnished their sole musical instrument. The younger men made nets, mended weapons, or shaped stones for their slings. The natives in this island did not appear to understand the use of the bow and arrow, their only weapons being clubs, slings, and spears. The spears were made of hard wood, polished and inlaid with pearl shell and beaten gold. The slings were of plaited fibre, the stones being rounded like an egg. The clubs were of various shapes, some with rounded heads, and others bent and pointed like a pick.
A QUEEN'S FAVOURITE
Three days after my coming to the Island of Gems I discovered, to my embarrassment, that Queen Melannie regarded me with more than royal favour. It had been her custom to seclude herself from her people except upon occasions, but now she preferred to walk with me daily upon the cliffs, or among the rich foliage, which made a natural garden in the valleys. None molested us, for those to whom the queen showed favour were taboo to the rest of the tribe, so that as long as I retained her goodwill I was safe. But who would be dependent upon a woman's whim?
"You do not love me, Peter," she said, for I had told her my name, "not as I love you. Your blood is cold. It does not run warm as mine does when I hold you to me."
I tried to pacify her, but she would not be satisfied.
"You do not love me! You cannot love me!" she repeated. "They want me to give you to the snake god. Why should I keep you if you do not love me?"
This was the first time she had threatened me, and I began to realize that the love she professed was tempered by a degree of venom which at any moment might consign me to some cruel death.
Surely no man was placed in such a dilemma as that in which I now found myself. In all my adventures I had never felt so helpless as I did when dealing with this wilful queen. I dared not tell her of my love for Anna Holstein, for I knew that such a confession would quickly seal my doom. Yet I could not return her love, for Anna was never out of my thoughts. Meanwhile Ackbau watched us closely, content to bide his time.
The people upon this island were unlike any I had previously met with. I conjectured that in ages past some tribe of Indians had migrated to it, for that Indian blood flowed in the veins of its present inhabitants seemed beyond doubt. Their intelligence exceeded that of aborigines, and their language contained words of Hindu origin. As for the queen, I set her down for a Portuguese maiden, whose mother must have accompanied the captain of some trading vessel, probably in search of the Island of Gems, when, by a stroke of fate, the ship, with all hands, had foundered, leaving Melannie the sole survivor.
Ackbau seldom spoke to me, and when he did his tone was unfriendly. "The white man will make good sport at the coming of the snake god," he said to me once when I had angered him by walking out with the queen, and those with him had laughed, and had looked at me in a manner that made me speculate upon what cruel fate it was to which they, in their own minds, had already consigned me.
Of the tortures practised by the islanders upon those who offended them, I was not left long in doubt. There had lately been a war, so Melannie told me, between this people and those of an adjacent island in which some captives had been taken who, according to custom, would be offered in sacrifice to propitiate one of the many evil spirits whom these benighted people worship. On the day of the sacrifice I was bidden to be present, and not daring to refuse, I accompanied the queen to a barren spot at the foot of the mountain where some gaunt trees rose out of a bed of lava. Here we found Ackbau haranguing the victims, and describing to them the tortures they would shortly be called upon to suffer. One of the captives had been prepared for the sacrifice, and, but for the gravity of his position, his appearance might have excited mirth. His body was encased in a kind of basket from which his head, arms, and legs protruded, giving him the appearance of a gigantic insect. To the top of the basket, or tamgky, to give it its native name, was attached a rope of flax, the end of which had been thrown over a branch of one of the trees to the height of about forty feet from the ground. By command of Ackbau, a file of warriors now began to pull upon this rope, when the victim was drawn up to the branch over his head, where Melannie told me he would be allowed to remain until, in the course of time, the rope rotted away, when the skeleton would fall to the ground. The object of enclosing the vital parts of the victim in a basket was that death might come as slowly as possible. Some would live, so the queen assured me, for many days, during which time of agony their faces and the exposed parts of their bodies would be devoured by ants and other venomous insects. Yet Melannie sat unmoved by the sight of these tortures, and even smiled when the poor wretch had been drawn up to his awful doom, and cried out in his agony. For that smile I felt that I could kill her.
Unable to control myself in the presence of such barbarities, I abruptly left the place of execution and began to ascend the mountain, at the foot of which the sacrifices were made, which I could see was the cause of a commotion among the natives. As none offered to stay me, however, I continued my way up the steep sides, which I found to be composed of rocks and scoria, with occasional patches of coarse grass. Among the slag of metals between the crevices of the rocks I unearthed a number of gems, though none so large as those which Melannie had given me, which I added to the collection I carried in a belt I had made for the purpose. I knew it was unlikely these bits of coloured crystal would ever be of value to me, but I carried them in the hope that some day I might be rescued, when I would return home possessed of the wealth I had coveted, and which I had risked my life to obtain.
As I explored the mountain I could hear the rumbling of the volcanic fire within, while as I proceeded a rain of fine dust descended, making further progress disagreeable. Earth tremors also warned me that the crust here was thin, and therefore dangerous. The mountain seemed on the verge of eruption, and I wondered that no alarm for the safety of the town built at the foot of it had been shown by Melannie and her people. But I remembered that volcanoes, like all great works of Nature, measure time by the lapse of ages, and that a thousand years will often pass between the convulsions of the internal fires which find an outlet through the earth's craters. The smoke and heat of the mountain, however, reminded me of my tinder-box, and I gathered some flints, of which there were a number lying round, before returning to my dwelling in the native town. I had kept my ability to make fire, so far, secret, but if my life was threatened I resolved to kindle a conflagration that would sweep the island.
When the queen and her followers returned from the place of execution Melannie sent for me.
"Have a care, Peter," she said. "We are ruled here by customs which may not be changed. Already Ackbau is jealous of the favour I have shown you. To go upon the mountain, which is forbidden country, may be made an argument in favour of thy death, from which even I cannot save you."
I pleaded an excuse for infringing the taboo, but Melannie shook her head. Then she embraced me and begged me to forgive her ill-humour.
"You will not leave me, Peter," she pleaded. "You are strong—stronger than Ackbau, and will protect me from him."
"But you are queen, are you not?" I answered.
"Yes, I am queen," replied Melannie, "but I do not love my people as I should do. I wish they would make Ackbau king, so that I might be free as others are."
She tried to embrace me, but I disengaged myself from her. I could not take her to my heart, coming, as she did, a willing spectator from the place of sacrifice.
I BECOME CHIEF COOK
I now resolved to introduce the cooking of food upon the island. From the fish and clams which the natives offered me in their raw state I turned in disgust, but I reflected that, cooked, they would make excellent eating. I was tired of fruit, and craved a more substantial diet. How long I might be compelled to remain upon this island I knew not. Perhaps I was destined to spend the rest of my life upon it. Why, then, should I be deprived of the luxury of cooking my food, when, with my flint and steel, I possessed the means of making a fire?
When I spoke of my intention to Melannie she failed to grasp my meaning. She had no notion of fire except in connexion with the smoke on the mountain, and when I told her I could make fire like that and convert it to my use, she became incredulous.
"If you can make fire, Peter," she said, "you are greater than all the gods upon the island. Whoever heard of making fire?"
In order to convince her, and to test the effect which my fire might have upon these islanders, I invited her to accompany me to a remote part of the island, seldom visited, where I had already constructed a fire-place and collected a quantity of fuel, of which there was an abundance lying round. She came with me fearlessly, for she trusted me entirely, and her intelligence, which was superior to the islanders', made her less superstitious than the savages over whom she nominally reigned. When she saw the dried wood and leaves I had collected in my fire-place she appeared to think I had become suddenly demented, as sometimes happened to the people on the island, when they were thought to be possessed by evil spirits.
When I took up my flint and steel, however, and began to strike sparks on to the prepared tinder, she drew back alarmed, although her woman's curiosity conquered her desire to run away. But when the sparks lighted the dried leaves, causing the wood to crackle and burn, she would have fled if I had not detained her.
"There is no magic in fire-making, Melannie," I said, trying to allay her fears; "all white men make fires. It is as necessary to them as air and water."
But it was hard to convince the queen of this. She looked at my fire, which now burned brightly, with wonder and alarm. "Of a truth, Peter," she said, "thy magic is beyond me. I know now thou art indeed come from the sun. No man born of men could work such marvel."
I had brought with me a fine fish, caught that morning from the rocks, which I had sealed and cleaned with my dagger-knife, and I now toasted it over the hot coals, after which I enjoyed the most satisfying meal I had tasted since I had been cast upon the island. I induced Melannie to eat some of the fish, which she found so much to her liking that her fear of the fire changed to admiration for what it could do.
"When my people eat of this delicious food," she said, "they will worship you."
I had no desire to be worshipped. All I asked was permission to eat my grilled fish in peace. But Melannie was so delighted with her meal that she made me promise to prepare a fish each day for our mutual enjoyment. For some days we continued to dine by stealth. Fish were plentiful, and we also found the bivalves I had noticed on my first landing round the fresh water pools very palatable.
At length our daily absence from the village, always at the same hour, excited suspicion, and spies were set upon us, who reported we were making another smoke mountain, which led to a surprise visit from Ackbau, who came upon us one day when our meal was preparing. I had made some rude vessels of clay, hardened by fire, in which to boil the shell-fish, and with these simmering in the pot, and a fine rock cod grilling upon the hot coals, we were awaiting our dinner with pleasurable anticipation, when Ackbau appeared.
He was too astonished at what he saw to find fault, and when, later, he had eaten of grilled cod and boiled clams, seasoned with salt and cut-up bananas, a recipe which Melannie, with her woman's instinct, had invented for the preparation of this delicacy, he was so pleased with his food that he forgot to be ill-tempered.
After this surprise visit from Ackbau our privacy was at an end. Next day the whole council came to dinner. They brought with them a quantity of fish and clams, which they wanted cooked, and it became necessary to make fresh fires, and to instruct them in the art of cooking. This was soon done, for the natives, when shown our simple methods, very quickly began to understand what was required of them, and they became so interested in the cookery that for the time being all other business on the island was suspended. Soon the whole tribe took part in the cooking, and fires burned all along the shore at which fish and clams prepared as Melannie directed were converted into luscious banquets for the astonished islanders. Nothing else was thought of but cooking and eating, and the natives often gorged themselves to such an extent that they were unable for hours to stir from the spot.
This soon gave rise to disagreements and led to quarrels, until at length Ackbau, who in his own way was a born organizer, called the council together and enacted laws for the regulation of the cookery.
By these laws cooks were appointed, of whom I was made chief, and it became an offence, punishable by death, for any except those duly qualified to indulge in cooking. Regulations were also made for the distribution of food, and each day, at stated hours, the tribe assembled round the fires, when they were served with their portions, which they greedily devoured. There were no birds upon the island, or I might have added game to our bill of fare, but turtles were plentiful, and, when captured, were cooked under my directions in a manner which convinced the savages that I was of divine origin. The method of fire-making I kept to myself, rightly conceiving that so long as I preserved this secret my life would be spared.
But notwithstanding the improvement in their mode of living which I had brought to these people by the introduction of the use of fire amongst them, I could see that Ackbau still regarded me with disfavour. His cruel nature, moreover, began to suggest to him another use to which fire might be applied. One of his slaves inadvertently picked up a burning brand, which burnt his fingers, and the pain which it caused suggested to Ackbau that fire might be employed in torture. He ruled by fear, and the fear of fire had now become universal among the islanders. Ackbau spoke to me privately with regard to the making of this new element, and even offered to give me a seat on the council if I would surrender to him my flint and steel, but I told him that to me alone was committed the power of making fire, and that any other attempting it would bring upon himself inevitable disaster. Ackbau's ambition to become a fire-maker was checked for the moment, but I could see it was not satisfied.
THE SNAKE GOD
I was now to meet with a surprise. The chief deity worshipped by the people of the Island of Gems was a snake god, a monster who at regular, intervals visited a coral cave rising out of a pool of water said to be fathomless, from which I conjectured it was connected with the sea. The water in this pool was of a deep blue colour, salt to the taste, which further convinced me of its link with the ocean. On the first night of each full moon a human sacrifice was offered, with which the monster retreated into the coral cave, where it remained feasting upon its victim three days. During this period the natives continued without sleep, and fasting. At the end of three days the snake god disappeared, nor was it seen again until its next periodical visit.
There ran, a legend among the people of the Island of Gems that if a human sacrifice was not made to the snake god at the time of its coming, the island would be destroyed and its people exterminated, so that great care was taken to provide the monster with its accustomed tribute. Prisoners of war, and all strangers found upon the island, were, in the first place, offered to the snake god, and, failing these, a victim was chosen among the tribe.
It now appeared, so far as I could gather from Ackbau, who made no secret of his intentions regarding me, that had it not been, for the arrival of another stranger upon the island, I myself would have been offered as a sacrifice to the snake god at his next coming, and it was for this reason I had been received with apparent friendship. But a fresh captive being taken soon after I had been washed ashore had caused a change of plan very much to my advantage. Queen Melannie also had interested herself in my favour, and had refused to speak words at the secret council which would have decreed my death. But I might assure myself, said Ackbau, that my fate was only delayed, and at the coming of the snake god, next after the one immediately expected, my death had been decided upon. I appealed to Melannie, but she could only confirm what Ackbau had told me.
"I cannot save you, Peter," she said, "unless you will become my husband, when, if you are strong, we may overcome Ackbau, and rule as king and queen upon this island. But if that cannot be, let us escape by a means that I know of."
I put aside the question of marriage, but I eagerly embraced the proposal to escape.
Melannie then led me, secretly, by a path known only to Ackbau, the council, and herself, to a rock cavern close to the water's edge, in which was kept a ship's boat, which the queen told me had been washed ashore at the same time when, she was found crying upon the beach. It was a well-built, serviceable cutter, with spare oars, and a sail stowed under the thwarts, just as they had been placed in her when she had put to sea, but there was neither food nor water in the boat, although I discovered a water-tank forward, which could readily be filled from one of the many streams on the island. I became so excited at the prospect of escape that Melannie looked grave.
"You are glad to go, Peter," she said. "Go, then; take the boat, and leave me to my fate."
"Not so, Melannie," I answered. "I will take you with me, and restore you to your own people. It is not meet that a white girl, such as thou, should abide with savages."
At these words Melannie recovered her gaiety.
"Let me go with thee, Peter," she said, clapping her hands with pleasure. "It is all I ask. But if we would not be followed by war canoes, which could easily overtake us, we must use much cunning in the manner of our going."
We then took counsel together, when Melannie advised that our best chance to escape would be at the time of the coming of the snake god. When the monster appeared, and for three days afterward, while it remained in the coral cave, the savages would be held to the spot by their traditions from which nothing would induce them to depart. We might then slip away unobserved, and be out of sight of land before the ceremonies in connexion with the sacrifice were over. This appearing to be our opportunity, we at once set about making preparations. From a stream near the cave I filled the boat's water-tank, and we collected a quantity of coconuts, bananas, and other fruits, which we stowed on board; nor did I forget to take some of the largest gems from the treasure cave, which I stuffed into my belt with the others. The gold I did not touch. It was heavy to carry, and its transport might have caused suspicion. We also launched the boat, with some difficulty, into a natural boat harbour formed by a coral reef, so that no time might be lost in getting away. All being ready, we waited impatiently for the day upon which we had planned to set out upon our voyage.
During this time I observed a change upon the mountain in the centre of the island. The smoke cloud, which always hovered over it, had increased until it hung like a funeral pall over the top of the volcano. Loud rumblings also were heard like distant thunder, while earth tremors were constantly felt. I mentioned these matters to Melannie, but she did not appear to attach any importance to them.
"The mountain was always like that," she said. "Perhaps the evil spirits who live there are angry." But I knew from my reading and experience that these signs and portents were such as heralded an eruption. In the excitement of leaving the island, however, I forgot my anxieties with regard to the volcano.
I now questioned Melannie with regard to the white stranger whose coming had saved me from being offered as a sacrifice to the snake god. At first she refused to tell me anything concerning him, but when I pressed her she conducted me to a cavern in which the captive was confined. The door of this dungeon was a swinging rock, which Melannie caused to open by some means of which she knew the secret, when the wretched man who was reserved for the sacrifice was seen crouching in darkness at the farther end of the cave. He came toward us bent double. There was a scared look upon his face. The light dazzled him. I knew him at once, and held my breath. It was Van Luck. When he saw me he threw himself upon his knees and implored me to save him, but I told him I had no power to avert his death even if I would. In answer to my question as to how he came upon the island, he answered, that almost at the same time as I had been washed overboard he himself had been precipitated by a wave into the sea.
"Well, Van Luck," I said to him. "It seemeth to me that the hand of Providence is in this business. But for your conduct we had both now been on board the 'Arms of Amsterdam,' yet no sooner was I cast into the sea by your treachery than you were made to follow me, to be brought to this island, where, but for your coming, I would have been subject to the cruel fate which now awaits you."
"Mercy!" he cried. "I do not fear death. But the death that I am to suffer is not for a human to contemplate. If you cannot save me, at least kill me, so that I may escape the torture of being devoured alive."
But I was powerless to aid him, and at a sign from Melannie, who was fearful lest our visit might be discovered, I stepped back, as the rock at the mouth of the cave returned to its place, and consigned the miserable captive to a darkness from which he would not emerge until the time for the sacrifice.
A PLAN OF ESCAPE
I was now of two minds, whether to make terms with Ackbau or to endeavour to escape with Melannie from the Island of Gems in the boat we had made ready for sea. On the one hand was immediate safety, and the prospect of some ship calling at the island in which I might return to civilization. On the other was a hazardous journey alone with a young girl, who could not be expected to realize the dangers which lay before her. Was I justified, I asked myself, in exposing the queen to the tragedy which might await us upon the ocean? If captured I had no doubt that both of us would be condemned by Ackbau to a cruel death, and if we succeeded in getting away how should we exist until some chance vessel came to our rescue? I mentioned my fears to Melannie, but she would not hear of abandoning the project we had formed.
"Let us go, Peter," she urged. "Nothing but death, or worse, awaits us here. As for you, at the next coming of the snake god after the one that is about to take place you will assuredly be offered as a sacrifice, for I may tell you that a solemn vow has been made by the council to that effect. While I, at the same time, am to be given in marriage to Ackbau, a fate from which I shrink more than from death. Why, then, should we exchange the chance of reaching the country you speak of for the tortures which must certainly await us here? Let us trust ourselves to the sea rather than cling to this land of sorrow. If we perish, we perish."
I could not but agree that her argument contained much good sense, and I admired the courage with which she was ready to face the worst that Fate might have in store for us.
"Let it be so then, Melannie," I answered. "May heaven deal with me as I deal with thee in protecting us both from evil."
After arriving at this decision we agreed there must be no turning back, and it only now remained to await the night upon which the unfortunate Van Luck would be offered to the snake god in order to make good our escape. Meanwhile we were allowed to wander about the island together as before. Ackbau having obtained the decree of the council for my death, and his own marriage with the queen, could afford to wait, nor did he appear anxious to deprive Melannie of the pleasure which she found in my company, until I was removed from his path. Melannie, although arrived at woman's estate, was but a child at heart, and, as a child, he knew she would be content to let things drift until the moment for my execution was at hand, when it would be too late even for the queen to prevent it.
I had now become much attached to Melannie, feeling for her as for a dear sister. Her love for me I could not return, since all my love was given to my betrothed, but next to Anna I loved Melannie more than anyone in the world.
So far as the islanders were concerned, I was now left to my own devices. My fire-making had lost its novelty, and since it was discovered that one fire could be lighted from another my flint and steel had depreciated in value. In order to conciliate Ackbau I offered to explain to him the secret of my fire-making, but he answered coldly that he himself knew how to make fire by taking a burning brand from one fire and thrusting it among dried wood and leaves, of which there were great quantities on the island, as fire had never been alight there before.
"But if your fire should go out you would not know how to light it again," I argued.
"I will take care that it does not go out," answered Ackbau.
The cooking also which I had taught them was easily performed by certain members of the tribe told off for that purpose, and I noticed that much secrecy was observed in the preparation of food. This secret was revealed to me in a startling manner when I unexpectedly came upon Ackbau and some members of the council seated together enjoying a stew of what I could see was human flesh. For, indeed, what else could it be, seeing there were no animals upon the island? I mastered my horror as well as I could, for I was now in great dread of these savages, who, since they had acquired the taste for meat, appeared to have become far more ferocious and cruel than before resorting to the dreadful practice of cannibalism. My discovery, however, made me more than ever determined to rescue Melannie from the companionship of these wretches who called her their queen. It was better, I argued, for her to die in her youth and innocence upon the sea, if Providence so willed, than to become the wife of such a man as Ackbau.
I did not confide to Melannie my dreadful discovery, but she was not slow in noticing a change in the demeanour of the men with whom she formerly had daily intercourse. Those who had become eaters of human flesh avoided her, and even Ackbau seemed ashamed to intrude himself upon her.
"What is it, Peter?" she asked me, and I read the questioning fear in her eyes.
I did my best to pacify her, but I could see that the repugnance with which she regarded Ackbau now almost amounted to a mania.
"I feel inclined to run from Ackbau when I see him," she said. "If he touched me I am sure that I would scream."
"You will soon be beyond his power," I answered. "Do not think of him, and you will not fear him."
"Oh, Peter, take me away, I am frightened!" she sobbed. "Do not let Ackbau and the others come near me. They have done something. I don't know what it is. But they are not as they were before they made the fire. Perhaps a curse is upon them for having stolen the secret from the smoke mountain."
I tried to comfort her, but I could see that the poor child was greatly alarmed, and I determined to speak to Ackbau regarding the abominable practice in which he was engaged.
"Had I known that my fire-making would have made a cannibal of thee, Ackbau," I said, "I would never have kindled the element upon this island. Fire is a useful and necessary article in the life of a good man, but it becomes a curse if put to evil purposes."
"It is a curse then that will fall most heavily upon thee," answered Ackbau. "As for me, this is my country, and I am king of its customs." But although he pretended to resent my interference, I could see that Ackbau was ashamed of what he had done, and henceforth he avoided Melannie, and seldom entered the queen's presence, so that I gained what I had in view by remonstrating with him.
The thought of the fire, however, and the effect which the making of it had upon these savages, set me pondering whether this element was really the primary cause of cannibalism.
No savages whom I ever met devour raw flesh, whether human or animal, so that the eating of meat by men would seem to be an acquired habit. Fruit and water appear to be the natural food and drink of man, all else being artificial and vicious.
THE NIGHT OF THE SACRIFICE
At last the night came when the snake god was to appear. The moon shone with wonderful brilliancy, sending a path of dancing light from the island across the sea to the horizon. The air was heavy as though presaging a storm. On the mountain the black pall was conspicuous against the star-spangled sky. A red glow from the crater illumined the dark smoke-cloud hanging over it. The silence was broken by the continued playing of reed pipes, making wonderful music. Melannie sat upon a throne, close to the pool in front of the coral cave, in which the stars were reflected as in a mirror. Ackbau and other chiefs stood near her. The queen was pale, but her dark eyes were resolute. She smiled when I looked at her, to give me encouragement. Her subjects were assembled round the pool in a triple line. Presently the beating of a war-drum announced the arrival of a procession, which advanced slowly to the pool, bearing a litter upon which, bound hand and foot, was stretched the unfortunate Van Luck. When they had come to the edge of the pool they set the litter down and withdrew.
I had no cause to love Van Luck, yet there was something in his helpless misery which appealed to me, and made it impossible for me to abandon him to his fate without an effort to save him. Besides, he was of my race, a white man. I could not leave him to be butchered by savages.
And now the waters of the pool began to be agitated by the rising of the leviathan from its depths, and suddenly a monstrous head, mounted upon a neck full twenty feet long, rose out of the water. The body of the creature resembled that of a turtle, only ten times larger than. the biggest turtle I had ever beheld. Thrice the monster circled the pool. Then it began slowly to approach the litter upon which Van Luck lay, more dead than alive with the terror that had come upon him. I could bear no more, and, throwing prudence to the winds, I ran to help him. I was just in time to drag him beyond reach of the monster, who made a rush to the edge of the pool when he saw his prey being taken from him.
A great shout arose from the savages, who seemed amazed at the act of sacrilege I had committed. The reed pipes stopped playing. Melannie rose from her throne pale and trembling. Ackbau advanced towards me with a threatening gesture.
"This must not be, Ackbau," I said, pointing to where Van Luck lay at my feet gazing at the monster in mute terror. "I will prevent it." Ackbau gave some directions, when a number of savages advanced, evidently with the intention of taking me alive, so that I might be given to the monster, which continued to swim round the pool lashing the water into foam, and stretching its neck from side to side in anger at having been robbed of its prey.
But now a new diversion arose which caused a panic among the savages. We had all been so engrossed by what was taking place at the pool that no heed had been given to the mountain. With a mighty roar which shook the island to its foundations the volcano broke into eruption. The crust had given way, and the internal fires, held in check, belched from the crater. Huge rocks and stones glowing red hot were thrown to incredible heights. The earth rocked and opened, so that many were engulfed.
Streams of lava began to descend. The pool sank, leaving a deep pit into which the monster disappeared. The prophecy was about to be fulfilled. The snake god had been robbed of its tribute, and the island with all upon it was to be destroyed. In, their terror the savages raced for the seashore. Nothing was remembered but self-preservation.
I now released Van Luck from his bonds, and bidding him and Melannie follow me, I led the way along the secret path to where the boat lay, ready to put to sea. I was rewarded for my rescue of Van Luck by his ability to help me. Not a breath of wind stirred, so that we could not use the sail, and it became necessary to sweep the boat with the oars away from the burning island. Alone I could not have accomplished this, and I doubt if Melannie could have helped me, ignorant as she was of the use of the heavy oar. But Van Luck and I had no difficulty in sweeping the boat out to sea. Thus does Providence recompense a merciful action.
When we had gained a safe distance from the island we rested awhile in order to look back on the strangest and most terrific sight I had ever beheld. The island seemed to be blown to atoms. Flames and masses of rock shot up from the quickly-widening crater until the island, which had lately risen like a beauty-spot in the ocean, became a mass of fire. The lava, now pouring in red-hot streams into the sea, caused steam-clouds to rise, so that the island disappeared behind a luminous veil. None of the savages escaped, for we saw no canoes making from the shore. Thus vanished the Island of Gems, with its treasure of jewels and gold, the dross of the world, in the pursuit of which so many risk their lives.
A light breeze now coming from the south-east, we hoisted the sails, and taking the helm, I placed Van Luck in charge of the foresail, whilst Melannie and I sat together in the stern. The queen did not appear to regret the loss of her country.
"I am queen no longer," she said, clapping her hands at the thought of her freedom. "Ackbau cannot frighten me any more, nor shall I see again those dreadful sights I was compelled to witness."
"You will be happy," I whispered, "among your own people. You will be rich also, for half my jewels will make you wealthy in the land to which you are going."
"Nay, Peter," she answered. "I need not take your jewels. I have jewels of my own. When I saw that you valued the bright stones, I knew they would be of value to me also. I have a bagful of jewels, larger than yours, and brighter." And, laughing to see the surprise she had given me, Melannie drew out a handful of gems from a bag which she carried at her girdle, which glowed with a wonderful lustre under the light of the moon.
It was then that I saw Van Luck watching us from the bow of the boat. His countenance wore a cunning, greedy look, and his eyes were fastened upon the jewels in Melannie's hand.
"Put them away," I whispered. "Such toys are often the cause of much trouble."
Melannie replaced the jewels, but seemed disappointed at my words.
"I thought you would be glad I had brought away the bright stones," she said. "But if they are unlucky I will cast them into the sea."
"Nay, Melannie," I answered. "Keep them, for they will make you the richest among the women of your own country. But do not show them to anyone or let it be known that you have them with you, should we fall in with a passing ship, or they may cause our ruin, perhaps our death." Melannie seemed to understand me, but her pleasure in the bright stones had received a check since her display of them had brought a rebuke from my lips.
AT THE MERCY OF THE SEA
When morning broke on the day after our escape from the burning island we shaped a course with the wind, for I had no fixed purpose, and our only hope of returning to civilization lay in a chance meeting with some passing vessel. Yet I knew how remote that chance would be. The sea in these latitudes was not in the course of trade between any of the countries of the known world, and voyages of discovery such as those undertaken by Dirk Hartog and other navigators of the time were few and far between. Still I conceived it to be my duty to make the best use of the means which Providence had placed in my hands of returning to home and friends, and as the cutter danced over the waves, and the salt spray moistened our faces, I felt my spirits rise.
Melannie, in her new-found freedom, was like a happy child.
"Let us sail on for ever, Peter," she said. "I never want to put my foot on land again."
I tried to tell her that we could not live long upon the ocean; that our food and water would fail us; and that unless we fell in with a ship, or landed upon some friendly island, our doom was sealed. But Melannie refused to look upon the graver side of our situation, and seemed so happy and contented that I did not like to spoil her enjoyment with my dismal forebodings. Time enough, I thought, to meet trouble when it comes. Meanwhile we continued our voyage as a pleasure trip, eating the fruit we had brought with us when we felt hungry, and quenching our thirst from the boat's water-tank, with no care for the future.
During this time Van Luck resumed his former air of abstraction, which I had noticed in him on board the "Arms of Amsterdam". For hours at a time he would remain silent, looking across the sea with his hand shading his eyes in the watchful attitude which had become habitual to him during his solitary vigils at the island upon which we had found him. If spoken to when this fit was upon him, he would not answer, nor did he, at such times, appear to realize where he was. I could see that his mind was deranged, and I dreaded some violent outbreak, such as that which had come over him when, by his treachery, I was cast into the sea. But Melannie showed no fear of him; in, her delight at being with me upon the ocean away from the savages, among whom she had been reared, she seemed to have forgotten his presence.
For the next week after leaving what had been once the Island of Gems, we experienced a spell of fine weather, with bright sun and cool breeze. The elements seemed kind to the exiled queen without a throne, who had trusted herself to the wind and the sea, and but for the anxiety which I felt for the future, the voyage would have been a pleasant one.
In order to protect Melannie from the heat of midday, and to ensure her some measure of privacy, I constructed a temporary cabin for her, with some spare canvas which I found on board the boat, but at night she preferred to sleep in the open so that she might watch the stars, which shone with extraordinary brilliancy. It was then that I lowered the sails when our boat drifted upon the moonlit sea. Melannie would at such times creep into my arms, and with her head pillowed upon, my breast would listen to the wonders I had to tell of the world of white people to which I hoped I was taking her.
"Something warns me I shall never see that country, Peter," she said to me one night with a sigh, "but I like to hear you speak of it. It must be a happy land where there are no black men to frighten a poor girl and make her weep. But I shall not see it. The white spirits would not welcome me to their country if they knew of the sights I had seen and the pain I had caused to be inflicted on those whom Ackbau hated."
"It was not your will, but Ackbau's, Melannie, which caused such suffering," I answered. "None could blame you for being the mouthpiece of his villainy."
But Melannie shook her head.
"The white man's country is not for me, Peter," she declared sorrowfully. "I am too steeped in blood to take the white girls' hands in friendship."
Then she clung to me weeping, with her head upon my breast, and so she would sob herself to sleep like a child disappointed in play.
But, knowing her history, I could not find it in my heart to blame her for what had been done at the dictation of others. I pictured her a queen, among the whites, by reason of her wealth from the sale of her jewels, who would doubtless have many noble suitors at her feet. Her beauty was such as I had never seen equalled, and her imperious and sometimes wilful ways only added to her indescribable charms. It was now forced upon me that unless help came soon we must starve. Our stock of fruit was almost exhausted, and scarce three quarts of water remained in the tank. I had not been able to impress upon Melannie the necessity for economy in our eating and drinking. She had always been used to an abundance of simple fare, and, like a child, lived for the hour, with no thought of the future. Van Luck had also been in the habit of helping himself to what he wanted from our stock, nor had I liked to interfere with him lest I might cause trouble. But now I resolved to take a firmer stand with both my passengers.
To add to my anxieties I could see that Van Luck had been attracted by the bag of jewels which Melannie had so imprudently displayed on the night of our escape from the burning island. He was continually watching it when his eyes were not employed in gazing across the sea, and once I caught him creeping toward Melannie when she slept as if with the intention of robbing her of the treasure. I spoke to him roughly, and ordered him back to the fore part of the boat. He obeyed, but his looks were so threatening that I momentarily expected him to attack me.
I now determined to keep awake while Melannie slept in order that I might watch Van Luck, and I impressed upon the queen that she must never sleep when I slept. Thus we continued for some nights, keeping watch and watch about. But I soon found I could not trust Melannie, for when I awoke I discovered her to be asleep. But in this, as in all else, Melannie was such a child that I could not find it in my heart to scold her.
HOW MY SECOND VOYAGE ENDED
I now resolved to place Van Luck under restraint, for it was plain to me he was not responsible for his actions, and with this object in view I went forward one morning with a rope in my hand, intending to secure him in some way from harming himself and others. As I approached him Van Luck, who seemed to divine my purpose, drew back with a savage, animal-like growl. I tried to pacify him by speaking kindly, but he suddenly sprang at me with a knife in his hand. I caught his arm before he could strike, and we fell together upon the thwarts of the boat, locked in a deadly embrace. Van Luck was a powerful man, and his madness seemed to give him double strength. I called to Melannie to keep away from us, but afraid for my safety, and fearless of her own, she hurried to my assistance. "Get my knife," I whispered, for I was unable to draw it myself from its sheath by my side. The brave girl stooped to do my bidding, when the madman, at the same moment, wrenched his arm free and struck her. Melannie fell with a low moan upon the thwart beside me, and Van Luck, snatching the bag of gems from where it hung at her girdle, retreated with his prize to the stern.
I was soon upon my feet, and lifting Melannie into a more easy position, I turned my attention to Van Luck. He was sitting in the stern, handling the gems and mumbling over them, and when he saw me he clutched the bag, and, springing up, made as though to run from me, unmindful of the fact that we were tossing in mid-ocean. Without turning his head from looking back at me, he stumbled blindly into the sea, where he soon became lost amid the grey waves that rose on every side.
When I returned to Melannie I could see that she was sinking fast. I did my best to staunch the blood which flowed from her breast. But her whitened face, upon which the dews of death were gathering, warned me she had not many moments to live.
"Kiss me, Peter," she whispered. "It is better that I should go. You do not love me; you cannot love me as I love you. There is some one else whom you love. I know it; I have felt it. Go to her, Peter, but do not quite forget me."
These were her last words, and, when I kissed her, Melannie, Queen of the Island of Gems, had crossed the waters of the Great Divide. Next day I consigned her body to the deep wrapped in her robe of white tapa cloth which formed her shroud.
I was now alone upon the waste of waters, with barely three days' provisions between me and a slow and painful death. To add to my anxieties I could see that the weather, which had been calm and fine since my leaving the island, was about to change. Storm clouds gathered on the horizon. The sun was obscured. Rain fell, and the wind rose until it blew with the force of a tempest. I managed, with difficulty, to unship the sail, and devoted myself to baling the boat, which threatened at any moment to be swamped by the green water which came aboard of her. All that day, and the next, I was driven by the storm whither I knew not. The fruit which remained from our store was now rendered uneatable by reason of the salt water, in which it washed from side to side as the boat tossed and buffeted upon her way. A was famished and numb with cold. Yet, even in my extremity, I clung to life, and my last act of consciousness was to secure myself by a rope to the thwart upon which I lay.
I was brought back to life by a flask of spirits held to my lips, and upon opening my eyes I became conscious of a bronzed, kindly face looking down at me in the water-logged boat.
"Hold up, lad," said my preserver in English, a language with which I was well acquainted. "We'll have you aboard the 'Seagull' in a jiff, and to-morrow you'll be as fit as a buck rat."
I then saw that a ship's boat was alongside the cutter, manned by four men. The weather had by this time moderated, but the sea ran high. It was therefore no easy matter to shift me from the cutter into the boat, for I was helpless and weak as a child from exposure to wind and sea. But willing hands at length effected the transfer, when we made for the "Seagull", which lay hove to half a mile distant.
On coming aboard this vessel I was taken below and treated with great kindness, when, after my wet clothes had been set to dry, I was put into a warm bunk, a bowl of hot soup being brought to me, which, when I had taken it, sent me into a sound sleep. I awoke much refreshed, and on resuming my clothes I was glad to find that the belt in which I carried my jewels had not been interfered with. I thought it more prudent not to make mention of these gems, for I well knew that if they were found upon me I should not be allowed to keep them. The captain, having heard so much of my story as I chose to tell, promised me a passage to England, whither his ship was bound.
I found the crew of the brig "Seagull" to be a rough lot, of mixed nationalities, but Captain Bland, who was in command, was an Englishman returning home after a voyage of two years in these latitudes. Upon learning my rating on the "Arms of Amsterdam" he made me his second mate, in place of one who had died shortly before my coming on board the brig.
It may be imagined with what a thankful heart I welcomed a change from the companionship of savages to that of civilized men, and when I remembered the projects I had formed against my life I realized how unwise it is to become the arbiter of one's own fate.
I voyaged in the English ship without mishap so long as we sailed upon uncharted seas, but when we entered home waters we kept a sharp look-out for pirates and free-booters, who at this time took toll from all whom they encountered. Off the coast of Africa we exchanged signals with passing vessels, from whom we learnt that pirates had been sighted in close proximity, and one morning we noticed two schooners bearing down upon us. As the wind was in favour of the pirates, for such we judged them to be, we could not hope to outrun them, our ship being foul after her long voyage, so the men were mustered and made ready for action.
While these preparations were on foot I could not help admiring the cool and fearless manner in which the English sailors set about their work. There was no hurry or confusion in their methods. Each man knew his duty, and was ready to do it.
With shouts and yells from the pirates on board of her, one of the schooners now ranged alongside, and the grappling irons were hove athwart our bulwarks. I sent a shower of grape from the gun, of which I had charge, upon the deck of the schooner, killing four of the pirates and wounding others, but this failed to stop the boarding party, who now swarmed upon us. The fight became general, and, led by Captain Bland, we engaged the robbers with such goodwill that we had almost succeeded in driving them over the side when the second schooner came up, and a fresh horde of ruffians joined in the attack. Retreating aft, we again made a stand, though it was evident that, in the end, we must be overpowered, outnumbered, as we were, three to one.
Still we continued to fight on with no thought of surrender, for we knew that capture would mean death by walking the plank. Four of the English on our side were killed, besides seven or eight of those of other nationalities, whilst many were wounded. The decks were slippery with blood, and a gathering mist made it impossible to ascertain the extent of our losses. Captain Bland now placed himself beside me, and together we held the pirates at bay.
"This can't last, Van Bu," he said, "and I am resolved that my ship shall not fall into the hands of these scoundrels."
"What can you do?" I answered, without pausing in my defence.
"I'll fire the magazine sooner than let them take her," replied Bland. "Keep them in check for a while and we'll sink together."
With these words he sprang to the hatchway while I continued to fight on, expecting every moment to be blown with all hands into eternity.
I had given up hope, and the suspense of awaiting the expected catastrophe was so acute that I had almost made up my mind to throw myself overboard and take my chance with the sharks, when two square sails emerged out of the smoke, and the hull of a man-o'-war, with a wide spread of canvas, ranged alongside, while a number of English man-o'-war's men, led by an officer, sprang upon our decks. At the sight of the King's men the pirates flung themselves headlong aboard their schooners, and endeavoured to make off, but they were soon captured and brought back, to be afterwards tried and hanged at the yard-arm.