Felix slept, too, for some hours, but woke with a start in the night. It was raining heavily. He could hear the loud patter of a fierce tropical shower on the roof of his hut. His Shadow, at his feet, slept still unmoved; but when Felix rose on his elbow, the Shadow rose on a sudden, too, and confronted him curiously. The young man heard the rain; then he bowed down his face with an awed air, not visible, but audible, in the still darkness. "It has come!" he said, with superstitious terror. "It has come at last! my lord has brought it!"
After that, Felix lay awake for some hours, hearing the rain on the roof, and puzzled in his own head by a half-uncertain memory. What was it in his school reading that that ceremony with the water indefinitely reminded him of? Wasn't there some Greek or Roman superstition about shaking your head when water was poured upon it? What could that superstition be, and what light might it cast on that mysterious ceremony? He wished he could remember; but it was so long since he'd read it, and he never cared much at school for Greek or Roman antiquities.
Suddenly, in a lull of the rain, the whole context at once came back with a rush to him. He remembered now he had read it, some time or other, in some classical dictionary. It was a custom connected with Greek sacrifices. The officiating priest poured water or wine on the head of the sheep, bullock, or other victim. If the victim shook its head and knocked off the drops, that was a sign that it was fit for the sacrifice, and that the god accepted it. If the victim trembled visibly, that was a most favorable omen. If it stood quite still and didn't move its neck, then the god rejected it as unfit for his purpose. Couldn't that be the meaning of the ceremony performed on Muriel and himself in "Heaven" that morning? Were they merely intended as human sacrifices? Were they to be kept meanwhile and, as it were, fed up for the slaughter? It was too horrible to believe; yet it almost looked like it.
He wished he knew the meaning of that strange word, "Korong." Clearly, it contained the true key to the mystery.
Anyhow, he had always his trusty knife. If the worst came to the worst—those wretches should never harm his spotless Muriel.
For he loved her to-night; he would watch over and protect her. He would save her at least from the deadliest of insults.
INTERCHANGE OF CIVILITIES.
All night long, without intermission, the heavy tropical rain descended in torrents; at sunrise it ceased, and a bright blue vault of sky stood in a spotless dome over the island of Boupari.
As soon as the sun was well risen, and the rain had ceased, one shy native girl after another came straggling up timidly to the white line that marked the taboo round Felix and Muriel's huts. They came with more baskets of fruit and eggs. Humbly saluting three times as they drew near, they laid down their gifts modestly just outside the line, with many loud ejaculations of praise and gratitude to the gods in their own language.
"What do they say?" Muriel asked, in a dazed and frightened way, looking out of the hut door, and turning in wonder to Mali.
"They say, 'Thank you, Queenie, for rain and fruits,'" Mali answered, unconcerned, bustling about in the hut. "Missy want to wash him face and hands this morning? Lady always wash every day over yonder in Queensland."
Muriel nodded assent. It was all so strange to her. But Mali went to the door and beckoned carelessly to one of the native girls just outside, who drew near the line at the summons, with a somewhat frightened air, putting one finger to her mouth in coyly uncertain savage fashion.
"Fetch me water from the spring!" Mali said, authoritatively, in Polynesian. Without a moment's delay the girl darted off at the top of her speed, and soon returned with a large calabash full of fresh cool water, which she lay down respectfully by the taboo line, not daring to cross it.
"Why didn't you get it yourself?" Muriel asked of her Shadow, rather relieved than otherwise that Mali hadn't left her. It was something in these dire straits to have somebody always near who could at least speak a little English.
Mali started back in surprise. "Oh, that would never do," she answered, catching a colloquial phrase she had often heard long before in Queensland. "Me missy's Shadow. That great Taboo. If me go away out of missy's sight, very big sin—very big danger. Man-a-Boupari catch me and kill me like Jani, for no me stop and wait all the time on missy."
It was clear that human life was held very cheap on the island of Boupari.
Muriel made her scanty toilet in the hut as well as she was able, with the calabash and water, aided by a rough shell comb which Mali had provided for her. Then she breakfasted, not ill, off eggs and fruit, which Mali cooked with some rude native skill over the open-air fire without in the precincts.
After breakfast, Felix came in to inquire how she had passed the night in her new quarters. Already Muriel felt how odd was the contrast between the quiet politeness of his manner as an English gentleman and the strange savage surroundings in which they both now found themselves. Civilization is an attribute of communities; we necessarily leave it behind when we find ourselves isolated among barbarians or savages. But culture is a purely personal and individual possession; we carry it with us wherever we go; and no circumstances of life can ever deprive us of it.
As they sat there talking, with a deep and abiding sense of awe at the change (Muriel more conscious than ever now of how deep was her interest in Felix Thurstan, who represented for her all that was dearest and best in England), a curious noise, as of a discordant drum or tom-tom, beaten in a sort of recurrent tune, was heard toward the hills; and at its very first sound both the Shadows, flinging themselves upon their faces with every sign of terror, endeavored to hide themselves under the native mats with which the bare little hut was roughly carpeted.
"What's the matter?" Felix cried, in English, to Mali; for Muriel had already explained to him how the girl had picked up some knowledge of our tongue in Queensland.
Mali trembled in every limb, so that she could hardly speak. "Tu-Kila-Kila come," she answered, all breathless. "No blackfellow look at him. Burn blackfellow up. You and Missy Korong. All right for you. Go out to meet him!"
"Tu-Kila-Kila is coming," the young man-Shadow said, in Polynesian, almost in the same breath, and no less tremulously. "We dare not look upon his face lest he burn us to ashes. He is a very great Taboo. His face is fire. But you two are gods. Step forth to receive him."
Felix took Muriel's hand in his, somewhat trembling himself, and led her forth on to the open space in front of the huts to meet the man-god. She followed him like a child. She was woman enough for that. She had implicit trust in him.
As they emerged, a strange procession met their eyes unawares, coming down the zig-zag path that led from the hills to the shore of the lagoon, where their huts were situated. At its head marched two men—tall, straight, and supple—wearing huge feather masks over their faces, and beating tom-toms, decorated with long strings of shiny cowries. After them, in order, came a sort of hollow square of chiefs or warriors, surrounding with fan-palms a central object all shrouded from the view with the utmost precaution. This central object was covered with a huge regal umbrella, from whose edge hung rows of small nautilus and other shells, so as to form a kind of screen, like the Japanese portieres now so common in English doorways. Two supporters held it up, one on either side, in long cloaks of feathers. Under the umbrella, a man seemed to move; and as he approached, the natives, to right and left, fled precipitately to their huts, snatching up their naked little ones from the ground as they went, and crying aloud, "Taboo, Taboo! He comes! he comes. Tu-Kila-Kila! Tu-Kila-Kila!"
The procession wound slowly on, unheeding these common creatures, till it reached the huts. Then the chiefs who formed the hollow square fell back one by one, and the man under the umbrella, with his two supporters, came forward boldly. Felix noticed that they crossed without scruple the thick white line of sand which all the other natives so carefully respected. The man within the umbrella drew aside the curtain of hanging nautilus shells. His face was covered with a thin mask of paper mulberry bark; but Felix knew he was the self-same person whom they had seen the day before in the central temple.
Tu-Kila-Kila's air was more insolent and arrogant than even before. He was clearly in high spirits. "You have done well, O King of the Rain," he said, turning gayly to Felix; "and you too, O Queen of the Clouds; you have done right bravely. We have all acquitted ourselves as our people would wish. We have made our showers to descend abundantly from heaven; we have caused the crops to grow; we have wetted the plantain bushes. See; Tu-Kila-Kila, who is so great a god, has come from his own home on the hills to greet you."
"It has certainly rained in the night," Felix answered, dryly.
But Tu-Kila-Kila was not to be put off thus. Adjusting his thin mask or veil of bark, so as to hide his face more thoroughly from the inferior god, he turned round once more to the chiefs, who even so hardly dared to look openly upon him. Then he struck an attitude. The man was clearly bursting with spiritual pride. He knew himself to be a god, and was filled with the insolence of his supernatural power. "See, my people," he cried, holding up his hands, palm outward, in his accustomed god-like way; "I am indeed a great deity—Lord of Heaven, Lord of Earth, Life of the World, Master of Time, Measurer of the Sun's Course, Spirit of Growth, Creator of the Harvest, Master of Mortals, Bestower of Breath upon Men, Chief Pillar of Heaven!"
The warriors bowed down before their bloated master with unquestioning assent. "Giver of Life to all the host of the gods," they cried, "you are indeed a mighty one. Weigher of the equipoise of Heaven and Earth, we acknowledge your might; we give you thanks eternally."
Tu-Kila-Kila swelled with visible importance. "Did I not tell you, my meat," he exclaimed, "I would bring you new gods, great spirits from the sun, fetchers of fire from my bright home in the heavens? And have they not come? Are they not here to-day? Have they not brought the precious gift of fresh fire with them?"
"Tu-Kila-Kila speaks true," the chiefs echoed, submissively, with bent heads.
"Did I not make one of them King of the Rain?" Tu-Kila-Kila asked once more, stretching one hand toward the sky with theatrical magnificence. "Did I not declare the other Queen of the Clouds in Heaven? And have I not caused them to bring down showers this night upon our crops? Has not the dry earth drunk? Am I not the great god, the Saviour of Boupari?"
"Tu-Kila-Kila says well," the chiefs responded, once more, in unanimous chorus.
Tu-Kila-Kila struck another attitude with childish self-satisfaction. "I go into the hut to speak with my ministers," he said, grandiloquently. "Fire and Water, wait you here outside while I enter and speak with my friends from the sun, whom I have brought for the salvation of the crops to Boupari."
The King of Fire and the King of Water, supporting the umbrella, bowed assent to his words. Tu-Kila-Kila motioned Felix and Muriel into the nearest hut. It was the one where the two Shadows lay crouching in terror among the native mats. As the god tried to enter, the two cowering wretches set up a loud shout, "Taboo! Taboo! Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!" Tu-Kila-Kila retreated with a contemptuous smile. "I want to see you alone," he said, in Polynesian, to Felix. "Is the other hut empty? If not, go in and cut their throats who sit there, and make the place a solitude for Tu-Kila-Kila."
"There is no one in the hut," Felix answered, with a nod, concealing his disgust at the command as far as he was able.
"That is well," Tu-Kila-Kila answered, and walked into it carelessly. Felix followed him close and deemed it best to make Muriel enter also.
As soon-as they were alone, Tu-Kila-Kila's manner altered greatly. "Come, now," he said, quite genially, yet with a curious under-current of hate in his steely gray eye; "we three are all gods. We who are in heaven need have no secrets from one another. Tell me the truth; did you really come to us direct from the sun, or are you sailing gods, dropped from a great canoe belonging to the warriors who seek laborers for the white men in the distant country?"
Felix told him briefly, in as few words as possible, the story of their arrival.
Tu-Kila-Kila listened with lively interest, then he said, very decisively, with great bravado, "It was I who made the big wave wash your sister overboard. I sent it to your ship. I wanted a Korong just now in Boupari. It was I who brought you."
"You are mistaken," Felix said, simply, not thinking it worth while to contradict him further. "It was a purely natural accident."
"Well, tell me," the savage god went on once more, eying him close and sharp, "they say you have brought fresh fire from the sun with you, and that you know how to make it burst out like lightning at will. My people have seen it. They tell me the wonder. I wish to see it too. We are all gods here; we need have no secrets. Only, I didn't want to let those common people outside see I asked you to show me. Make fire leap forth. I desire to behold it."
Felix took out the match-box from his pocket, and struck a vesta carefully. Tu-Kila-Kila looked on with profound interest. "It is wonderful," he said, taking the vesta in his own hand as it burned, and examining it closely. "I have heard of this before, but I have never seen it. You are indeed gods, you white men, you sailors of the sea." He glanced at Muriel. "And the woman, too," he said, with a horrible leer, "the woman is pretty."
Felix took the measure of his man at once. He opened his knife, and held it up threateningly. "See here, fellow," he said, in a low, slow tone, but with great decision, "if you dare to speak or look like that at that lady—god or no god, I'll drive this knife straight up to the handle in your heart, though your people kill me for it afterward ten thousand times over. I am not afraid of you. These savages may be afraid, and may think you are a god; but if you are, then I am a god ten thousand times stronger than you. One more word—one more look like that, I say—and I plunge this knife remorselessly into you."
Tu-Kila-Kila drew back, and smiled benignly. Stalwart ruffian as he was, and absolute master of his own people's lives, he was yet afraid in a way of the strange new-comer. Vague stories of the men with white faces—the "sailing gods"—had reached him from time to time; and though only twice within his memory had European boats landed on his island, he yet knew enough of the race to know that they were at least very powerful deities—more powerful with their weapons than even he was. Besides, a man who could draw down fire from heaven with a piece of wax and a little metal box might surely wither him to ashes, if he would, as he stood before him. The very fact that Felix bearded him thus openly to his face astonished and somewhat terrified the superstitious savage. Everybody else on the island was afraid of him; then certainly a man who was not afraid must be the possessor of some most efficacious and magical medicine. His one fear now was lest his followers should hear and discover his discomfiture. He peered about him cautiously, with that careful gleam shining bright in his eye; then he said with a leer, in a very low voice, "We two need not quarrel. We are both of us gods. Neither of us is the stronger. We are equal, that's all. Let us live like brothers, not like enemies, on the island."
"I don't want to be your brother," Felix answered, unable to conceal his loathing any more. "I hate and detest you."
"What does he say?" Muriel asked, in an agony of fear at the savage's black looks. "Is he going to kill us?"
"No," Felix answered, boldly. "I think he's afraid of us. He's going to do nothing. You needn't fear him."
"Can she not speak?" the savage asked, pointing with his finger somewhat rudely toward Muriel. "Has she no voice but this, the chatter of birds? Does she not know the human language?"
"She can speak," Felix replied, placing himself like a shield between Muriel and the astonished savage. "She can speak the language of the people of our distant country—a beautiful language which is as far superior to the speech of the brown men of Polynesia as the sun in the heavens is superior to the light of a candlenut. But she can't speak the wretched tongue of you Boupari cannibals. I thank Heaven she can't, for it saves her from understanding the hateful things your people would say of her. Now go! I have seen already enough of you. I am not afraid. Remember, I am as powerful a god as you. I need not fear. You cannot hurt me."
A baleful light gleamed in the cannibal's eye. But he thought it best to temporize. Powerful as he was on his island, there was one thing yet more powerful by far than he; and that was Taboo—the custom and superstition handed down from his ancestors, These strangers were Korong; he dare not touch them, except in the way and manner and time appointed by custom. If he did, god as he was, his people themselves would turn and rend him. He was a god, but he was bound on every side by the strictest taboos. He dare not himself offer violence to Felix.
So he turned with a smile and bided his time. He knew it would come. He could afford to laugh. Then, going to the door, he said, with his grand affable manner to his chiefs around, "I have spoken with the gods, my ministers, within. They have kissed my hands. My rain has fallen. All is well in the land. Arise, let us go away hence to my temple."
The savages put themselves in marching order at once. "It is the voice of a god," they said, reverently. "Let us take back Tu-Kila-Kila to his temple home. Let us escort the lord of the divine umbrella. Wherever he is, there trees and plants put forth green leaves and flourish. At his bidding flowers bloom and springs of water rise up in fountains. His presence diffuses heavenly blessings."
"I think," Felix said, turning to poor, terrified Muriel, "I've sent the wretch away with a bee in his bonnet."
THE CUSTOMS OF BOUPARI.
Human nature cannot always keep on the full stretch of excitement. It was wonderful to both Felix and Muriel how soon they settled down into a quiet routine of life on the island of Boupari. A week passed away—two weeks—three weeks—and the chances of release seemed to grow slenderer and slenderer. All they could do now was to wait for the stray accident of a passing ship, and then try, if possible, to signal it, or to put out to it in a canoe, if the natives would allow them.
Meanwhile, their lives for the moment seemed fairly safe. Though for the first few days they lived in constant alarm, this feeling, after a time, gave way to one of comparative security. The strange institution of Taboo protected them more efficiently in their wattled huts than the whole police force of London could have done in a Belgravian mansion. There thieves break through and steal, in spite of bolts and bars and metropolitan constables; but at Boupari no native, however daring or however wicked, would ever venture to transgress the narrow line of white coral sand which protected the castaways like an intangible wall from all outer interference. Within this impalpable ring-fence they were absolutely safe from all rude intrusion, save that of the two Shadows, who waited upon them, day and night, with unfailing willingness.
In other respects, considering the circumstances, their life was an easy one. The natives brought them freely of their simple store—yam, taro, bread-fruit, and cocoanut, with plenty of fish, crabs, and lobsters, as well as eggs by the basketful, and even sometimes chickens. They required no pay beyond a nod and a smile, and went away happy at those slender recognitions. Felix discovered, in fact, that they had got into a region where the arid generalizations of political economy do not apply; where Adam Smith is unread, and Mill neglected; where the medium of exchange is an unknown quantity, and where supply and demand readjust themselves continuously by simpler and more generous principles than the familiar European one of "the higgling of the market."
The people, too, though utter savages, were not in their own way altogether unpleasing. It was their customs and superstitions, rather than themselves, that were so cruel and horrible. Personally, they seemed for the most part simple-minded and good natured creatures. At first, indeed, Muriel was afraid to venture for a step beyond the precincts of their own huts; and it was long before she could make up her mind to go alone through the jungle paths with Mali, unaccompanied by Felix. But by degrees she learned that she could walk by herself (of course, with the inevitable Shadow ever by her side) over the whole island, and meet everywhere with nothing from men, women, and children but the utmost respect and gracious courtesy. The young lads, as she passed, would stand aside from the path, with downcast eyes, and let her go by with all the politeness of chivalrous English gentlemen. The old men would raise their eyes, but cross their hands on their breasts, and stand motionless for a few minutes till she got almost out of sight. The women would bring their pretty brown babies for the fair English lady to admire or to pat on the head; and when Muriel now and again stooped down to caress some fat little naked child, lolling in the dust outside the hut, with true tropical laziness, the mothers would run up at the sight with delight and joy, and throw themselves down in ecstacies of gratitude for the notice she had taken of their favored little ones. "The gods of Heaven," they would say, with every sign of pleasure, "have looked graciously upon our Unaloa."
At first Felix and Muriel were mainly struck with the politeness and deference which the natives displayed toward them. But after a time Felix at least began to observe, behind it all, that a certain amount of affection, and even of something like commiseration as well, seemed to be mingled with the respect and reverence showered upon them by their hosts. The women, especially, were often evidently touched by Muriel's innocence and beauty. As she walked past their huts with her light, girlish tread, they would come forth shyly, bowing many times as they approached, and offer her a long spray of the flowering hibiscus, or a pretty garland of crimson ti-leaves, saying at the same time, many times over, in their own tongue, "Receive it, Korong; receive it, Queen of the Clouds! You are good. You are kind. You are a daughter of the Sun. We are glad you have come to us."
A young girl soon makes herself at home anywhere; and Muriel, protected alike by her native innocence and by the invisible cloak of Polynesian taboo, quickly learned to understand and to sympathize with these poor dusky mothers. One morning, some weeks after their arrival, she passed down the main street of the village, accompanied by Felix and their two attendants, and reached the marae—the open forum or place of public assembly—which stood in its midst; a circular platform, surrounded by bread-fruit trees, under whose broad, cool shade the people were sitting in little groups and talking together. They were dressed in the regular old-time festive costume of Polynesia; for Boupari, being a small and remote island, too insignificant to be visited by European ships, retained still all its aboriginal heathen manners and customs. The sight was, indeed, a curious and picturesque one. The girls, large-limbed, soft-skinned, and with delicately rounded figures, sat on the ground, laughing and talking, with their knees crossed under them; their wrists were encinctured with girdles of dark-red dracaena leaves, their swelling bosoms half concealed, half accentuated by hanging necklets of flowers. Their beautiful brown arms and shoulders were bare throughout; their long, black hair was gracefully twined and knotted with bright scarlet flowers. The men, strong and stalwart, sat behind on short stools or lounged on the buttressed roots of the bread-fruit trees, clad like the women in narrow waist-belts of the long red dracaena leaves, with necklets of sharks' teeth, pendent chain of pearly shells, a warrior's cap on their well-shaped heads, and an armlet of native beans, arranged below the shoulder, around their powerful arms. Altogether, it was a striking and beautiful picture. Muriel, now almost released from her early sense of fear, stood still to look at it.
The men and girls were laughing and chatting merrily together. Most of them were engaged in holding up before them fine mats; and a row of mulberry cloth, spread along on the ground, led to a hut near one side of the marae. Toward this the eyes of the spectators were turned. "What is it, Mali?" Muriel whispered, her woman's instinct leading her at once to expect that something special was going on in the way of local festivities.
And Mali answered at once, with many nods and smiles, "All right, Missy Queenie. Him a wedding, a marriage."
The words had hardly escaped her lips when a very pretty young girl, half smothered in flowers, and decked out in beads and fancy shells, emerged slowly from the hut, and took her way with stately tread along the path carpeted with native cloth. She was girt round the waist with rich-colored mats, which formed a long train, like a court dress, trailing on the ground five or six feet behind her.
"That's the bride, I suppose," Muriel whispered, now really interested—for what woman on earth, wherever she may be, can resist the seductive delights of a wedding?
"Yes, her a bride," Mali answered; "and ladies what follow, them her bridesmaids."
At the word, six other girls, similarly dressed, though without the train, and demure as nuns, emerged from the hut in slow order, two and two, behind her.
Muriel and Felix moved forward with natural curiosity toward the scene. The natives, now ranged in a row along the path, with mats turned inward, made way for them gladly. All seem pleased that Heaven should thus auspiciously honor the occasion; and the bride herself, as well as the bridegroom, who, decked in shells and teeth, advanced from the opposite side along the path to meet her, looked up with grateful smiles at the two Europeans. Muriel, in return, smiled her most gracious and girlish recognition. As the bride drew near, she couldn't refrain from bending forward a little to look at the girl's really graceful costume. As she did so, the skirt of her own European dress brushed for a second against the bride's train, trailed carelessly many yards on the ground behind her.
Almost before they could know what had happened, a wild commotion arose, as if by magic, in the crowd around them. Loud cries of "Taboo! Taboo!" mixed with inarticulate screams, burst on every side from the assembled natives. In the twinkling of an eye they were surrounded by an angry, threatening throng, who didn't dare to draw near, but, standing a yard or two off, drew stone knives freely and shook their fists, scowling, in the strangers' faces. The change was appalling in its electric suddenness. Muriel drew back horrified, in an agony of alarm. "Oh, what have I done!" she cried, piteously, clinging to Felix for support. "Why on earth are they angry with us?"
"I don't know," Felix answered, taken aback himself. "I can't say exactly in what you've transgressed. But you must, unconsciously, in some way have offended their prejudices. I hope it's not much. At any rate they're clearly afraid to touch us."
"Missy Queenie break taboo," Mali explained at once, with Polynesian frankness. "That make people angry. So him want to kill you. Missy Queenie touch bride with end of her dress. Korong may smile on bride—that very good luck; but Korong taboo; no must touch him."
The crowd gathered around them, still very threatening in attitude, yet clearly afraid to approach within arm's-length of the strangers. Muriel was much frightened at their noise and at their frantic gestures. "Come away," she cried, catching Felix by the arm once more. "Oh, what are they going to do to us? Will they kill us for this? I'm so horribly afraid! Oh, why did I ever do it!"
The poor little bride, meanwhile, left alone on the carpet, and unnoticed by everybody, sank suddenly down on the mats where she stood, buried her face in her hands, and began to sob as if her heart would break. Evidently, something very untoward of some sort had happened to the dusky lady on her wedding morning.
The final touch was too much for poor Muriel's overwrought nerves. She, too, gave way in a tempest of sobs, and, subsiding on one of the native stools hard by, burst into tears herself with half-hysterical violence.
Instantly, as she did so, the whole assembly seemed to change its mind again as if by contagious magic. A loud shout of "She cries; the Queen of the Clouds cries!" went up from all the assembled mob to heaven. "It is a good omen," Toko, the Shadow, whispered in Polynesian to Felix, seeing his puzzled look. "We shall have plenty of rain now; the clouds will break; our crops will flourish." Almost before she understood it, Muriel was surrounded by an eager and friendly crowd, still afraid to draw near, but evidently anxious to see and to comfort and console her. Many of the women eagerly held forward their native mats, which Mali took from them, and, pressing them for a second against Muriel's eyes, handed them back with just a suspicion of wet tears left glistening in the corner. The happy recipients leaped and shouted with joy. "No more drought!" they cried merrily, with loud shouts and gesticulations. "The Queen of the Clouds is good: she will weep well from heaven upon my yam and taro plots!"
Muriel looked up, all dazed, and saw, to her intense surprise, the crowd was now nothing but affection and sympathy. Slowly they gathered in closer and closer, till they almost touched the hem of her robe; then the men stood by respectfully, laying their fingers on whatever she had wetted with her tears, while the women and girls took her hand in theirs and pressed it sympathetically. Mali explained their meaning with ready interpretation. "No cry too much, them say," she observed, nodding her head sagely. "Not good for Missy Queenie to cry too much. Them say, kind lady, be comforted."
There was genuine good-nature in the way they consoled her; and Felix was touched by the tenderness of those savage hearts; but the additional explanation, given him in Polynesian by his own Shadow, tended somewhat to detract from the disinterestedness of their sympathy. "They say, 'It is good for the Queen of the Clouds to weep,'" Toko said, with frank bluntness; "'but not too much—for fear the rain should wash away all our yam and taro plants.'"
By this time the little bride had roused herself from her stupor, and, smiling away as if nothing had happened, said a few words in a very low voice to Felix's Shadow. The Shadow turned most respectfully to his master, and, touching his sleeve-link, which was of bright gold, said, in a very doubtful voice, "She asks you, oh king, will you allow her, just for to-day, to wear this ornament?"
Felix unbuttoned the shining bauble at once, and was about to hand it to the bride with polite gallantry. "She may wear it forever, for the matter of that, if she likes," he said, good-humoredly. "I make her a present of it."
But the bride drew back as before in speechless terror, as he held out his hand, and seemed just on the point of bursting out into tears again at this untoward incident. The Shadow intervened with fortunate perception of the cause of the misunderstanding. "Korong must not touch or give anything to a bride," he said, quietly; "not with his own hand. He must not lay his finger on her; that would be unlucky. But he may hand it by his Shadow." Then he turned to his fellow-tribesmen. "These gods," he said, in an explanatory voice, like one bespeaking forgiveness, "though they are divine, and Korong, and very powerful—see, they have come from the sun, and they are but strangers in Boupari—they do not yet know the ways of our island. They have not eaten of human flesh. They do not understand Taboo. But they will soon be wiser. They mean very well, but they do not know. Behold, he gives her this divine shining ornament from the sun as a present!" And, taking it in his hand, he held it up for a moment to public admiration. Then he passed on the trinket ostentatiously to the bride, who, smiling and delighted, hung it low on her breast among her other decorations.
The whole party seemed so surprised and gratified at this proof of condescension on the part of the divine stranger that they crowded round Felix once more, praising and thanking him volubly. Muriel, anxious to remove the bad impression she had created by touching the bride's dress, hastily withdrew her own little brooch and offered it in turn to the Shadow as an additional present. But Toko, shaking his head vigorously, pointed with his forefinger many times to Mali. "Toko say him no can take it," Mali explained hastily, in her broken English. "Him no your Shadow; me your Shadow; me do everything for you; me give it to the lady." And, taking the brooch in her hand, she passed it over in turn amid loud cries of delight and shouts of approval.
Thereupon, the ceremony began all over again. They seemed by their intervention to have interrupted some set formula. At its close the women crowded around Muriel and took her hand in theirs, kissing it many times over, with tears in their eyes, and betraying an immense amount of genuine feeling. One phrase in Polynesian they repeated again and again; a phrase that made Felix's cheek turn white, as he leaned over the poor English girl with a profound emotion.
"What does it mean that they say?" Muriel asked at last, perceiving it was all one phrase, many times repeated.
Felix was about to give some evasive explanation, when Mali interposed with her simple, unthinking translation. "Them say, Missy Queenie very good and kind. Make them sad to think. Make them cry to see her. Make them cry to see Missy Queenie Korong. Too good. Too pretty."
"Why so?" Muriel exclaimed, drawing back with some faint presentiment of unspeakable horror.
Felix tried to stop her; but the girl would not be stopped. "Because, when Korong time up," she answered, blurting it out, "Korong must—"
Felix clapped his hand to her mouth in wild haste, and silenced her. He knew the worst now. He had divined the truth. But Muriel, at least, must be spared that knowledge.
SOWING THE WIND.
Vaguely and indefinitely one terrible truth had been forced by slow degrees upon Felix's mind; whatever else Korong meant, it implied at least some fearful doom in store, sooner or later, for the persons who bore it. How awful that doom might be, he could hardly imagine; but he must devote himself henceforth to the task of discovering what its nature was, and, if possible, of averting it.
Yet how to reconcile this impending terror with the other obvious facts of the situation? the fact that they were considered divine beings and treated like gods; and the fact that the whole population seemed really to regard them with a devotion and kindliness closely bordering on religious reverence? If Korongs were gods, why should the people want to kill them? If they meant to kill them, why pay them meanwhile such respect and affection?
One point at least was now, however, quite clear to Felix. While the natives, especially the women, displayed toward both of them in their personal aspect a sort of regretful sympathy, he could not help noticing at the same time that the men, at any rate, regarded them also largely in an impersonal light, as a sort of generalized abstraction of the powers of nature—an embodied form of the rain and the weather. The islanders were anxious to keep their white guests well supplied, well fed, and in perfect health, not so much for the strangers' sakes as for their own advantage; they evidently considered that if anything went wrong with either of their two new gods, corresponding misfortunes might happen to their crops and the produce of their bread-fruit groves. Some mysterious sympathy was held to subsist between the persons of the castaways and the state of the weather. The natives effusively thanked them after welcome rain, and looked askance at them, scowling, after long dry spells. It was for this, no doubt, that they took such pains to provide them with attentive Shadows, and to gird round their movements with taboos of excessive stringency. Nothing that the new-comers said or did was indifferent, it seemed, to the welfare of the community; plenty and prosperity depended upon the passing state of Muriel's health, and famine or drought might be brought about at any moment by the slightest imprudence in Felix's diet.
How stringent these taboos really were Felix learned by slow degrees alone to realize. From the very beginning he had observed, to be sure, that they might only eat and drink the food provided for them; that they were supplied with a clean and fresh-built hut, as well as with brand-new cocoanut cups, spoons, and platters; that no litter of any sort was allowed to accumulate near their enclosure; and that their Shadows never left them, or went out of their sight, by day or by night, for a single moment. Now, however, he began to perceive also that the Shadows were there for that very purpose, to watch over them, as it were, like guards, on behalf of the community; to see that they ate or drank no tabooed object; to keep them from heedlessly transgressing any unwritten law of the creed of Boupari; and to be answerable for their good behavior generally. They were partly servants, it was true, and partly sureties; but they were partly also keepers, and keepers who kept a close and constant watch upon the persons of their prisoners. Once or twice Felix, growing tired for the moment of this continual surveillance, had tried to give Toko the slip, and to stroll away from his hut, unattended, for a walk through the island, in the early morning, before his Shadow had waked; but on each such occasion he found to his surprise that, as he opened the hut door, the Shadow rose at once and confronted him angrily, with an inquiring eye; and in time he perceived that a thin string was fastened to the bottom of the door, the other end of which was tied to the Shadow's ankle; and this string could not be cut without letting fall a sort of latch or bar which closed the door outside, only to be raised again by some external person.
Clearly, it was intended that the Korong should have no chance of escape without the knowledge of the Shadow, who, as Felix afterward learned, would have paid with his own body by a cruel death for the Korong's disappearance.
He might as well have tried to escape his own shadow as to escape the one the islanders had tacked on to him.
All Felix's energies were now devoted to the arduous task of discovering what Korong really meant, and what possibility he might have of saving Muriel from the mysterious fate that seemed to be held in store for them.
One evening, about six weeks after their arrival in the island, the young Englishman was strolling by himself (after the sun sank low in heaven) along a pretty tangled hill-side path, overhung with lianas and rope-like tropical creepers, while his faithful Shadow lingered a step or two behind, keeping a sharp lookout meanwhile on all his movements.
Near the top of a little crag of volcanic rock, in the center of the hills, he came suddenly upon a hut with a cleared space around it, somewhat neater in appearance than any of the native cottages he had yet seen, and surrounded by a broad white belt of coral sand, exactly like that which ringed round and protected their own enclosure. But what specially attracted Felix's attention was the fact that the space outside this circle had been cleared into a regular flower-garden, quite European in the definiteness and orderliness of its quaint arrangement.
"Why, who lives here?" Felix asked in Polynesian, turning round in surprise to his respectful Shadow.
The Shadow waved his hand vaguely in an expansive way toward the sky, as he answered, with a certain air of awe, often observable in his speech when taboos were in question, "The King of Birds. A very great god. He speaks the bird language."
"Who is he?" Felix inquired, taken aback, wondering vaguely to himself whether here, perchance, he might have lighted upon some stray and shipwrecked compatriot.
"He comes from the sun like yourselves," the Shadow answered, all deference, but with obvious reserve. "He is a very great god. I may not speak much of him. But he is not Korong. He is greater than that, and less. He is Tula, the same as Tu-Kila-Kila."
"Is he as powerful as Tu-Kila-Kila?" Felix asked, with intense interest.
"Oh, no, he's not nearly so powerful as that," the Shadow answered, half terrified at the bare suggestion. "No god in heaven or earth is like Tu-Kila-Kila. This one is only king of the birds, which is a little province, while Tu-Kila-Kila is king of heaven and earth, of plants and animals, of gods and men, of all things created. At his nod the sky shakes and the rocks tremble. But still, this god is Tula, like Tu-Kila-Kila. He is not for a year. He goes on forever, till some other supplants him."
"You say he comes from the sun," Felix put in, devoured with curiosity. "And he speaks the bird language? What do you mean by that? Does he speak like the Queen of the Clouds and myself when we talk together?"
"Oh, dear, no," the Shadow answered, in a very confident tone. "He doesn't speak the least bit in the world like that. He speaks shriller and higher, and still more bird-like. It is chatter, chatter, chatter, like the parrots in a tree; tirra, tirra, tirra; tarra, tarra, tarra; la, la, la; lo, lo, lo; lu, lu, lu; li la. And he sings to himself all the time. He sings this way—"
And then the Shadow, with that wonderful power of accurate mimicry which is so strong in all natural human beings, began to trill out at once, with a very good Parisian accent, a few lines from a well-known song in "La Fille de Madame Angot:"
"Quand on conspi-re, Quand sans frayeur On pent se di-re Conspirateur, Pour tout le mon-de Il faut avoir Perruque blon-de Et collet noir— Perruque blon-de Et collet noir."
"That's how the King of the Birds sings," the Shadow said, as he finished, throwing back his head, and laughing with all his might at his own imitation. "So funny, isn't it? It's exactly like the song of the pink-crested parrot."
"Why, Toko, it's French," Felix exclaimed, using the Fijian word for a Frenchman, which the Shadow, of course, on his remote island, had never before heard. "How on earth did he come here?"
"I can't tell you," Toko answered, waving his arms seaward. "He came from the sun, like yourselves. But not in a sun-boat. It had no fire. He came in a canoe, all by himself. And Mali says"—here the Shadow lowered his voice to a most mysterious whisper—"he's a man-a-oui-oui."
Felix quivered with excitement. "Man-a-oui-oui" is the universal name over semi-civilized Polynesia for a Frenchman. Felix seized upon it with avidity. "A man-a-oui-oui!" he cried, delighted. "How strange! How wonderful! I must go in at once to his hut and see him!"
He had lifted his foot and was just going to cross the white line of coral-sand, when his Shadow, catching him suddenly and stoutly round the waist, pulled him back from the enclosure with every sign of horror, alarm, and astonishment. "No, you can't go," he cried, grappling with him with all his force, yet using him very tenderly for all that, as becomes a god. "Taboo! Taboo there!"
"But I am a god myself," Felix cried, insisting upon his privileges. If you have to submit to the disadvantages of taboo, you may as well claim its advantages as well. "The King of Fire and the King of Water crossed my taboo line. Why shouldn't I cross equally the King of the Birds', then?"
"So you might—as a rule," the Shadow answered with promptitude. "You are both gods. Your taboos do not cross. You may visit each other. You may transgress one another's lines without danger of falling dead on the ground as common men would do if they broke taboo-lines. But this is the Month of Birds. The king is in retreat. No man may see him except his own Shadow, the Little Cockatoo, who brings him his food and drink. Do you see that hawk's head, stuck upon the post by the door at the side. That is his Special Taboo. He keeps it for this month. Even gods must respect that sign, for a reason which it would be very bad medicine to mention. While the Month of Birds lasts, no man may look upon the king or hear him. If they did, they would die, and the carrion birds would eat them. Come away. This is dangerous."
Scarcely were the words well out of his mouth when from the recesses of the hut a rollicking French voice was heard, trilling out merrily:
"Quand on con-spi-re, Quand, sans frayeur—"
Without waiting for more, the Shadow seized Felix's arm in an agony of terror. "Come away!" he cried, hurriedly, "come away! What will become of us? This is horrible, horrible! We have broken taboo. We have heard the god's voice. The sky will fall on us. If his Shadow were to find it out and tell my people, my people would tear us limb from limb. Quick, quick! Hide away! Let us run fast through the forest before any man discover it."
The Shadow's voice rang deep with alarm. Felix felt he dare not trifle with this superstition. Profound as was his curiosity about the mysterious Frenchman, he was compelled to bottle up his eagerness and anxiety for the moment, and patiently wait till the Month of Birds had run its course, and taken its inconvenient taboo along with it. These limitations were terrible. Yet he counted much upon the information the Frenchman could give him. The man had been some time on the island, it was clear, and doubtless he understood its ways thoroughly; he might cast some light at last upon the Korong mystery.
So he went back through the woods with a heart somewhat lighter.
Not far from their own huts he met Muriel and Mali.
As they walked home together, Felix told his companion in a very few words the strange discovery about the Frenchman, and the impenetrable taboo by which he was at present surrounded. Muriel drew a deep sigh. "Oh, Felix," she said—for they were naturally by this time very much at home with one another, "did you ever know anything so dreadful as the mystery of these taboos? It seems as if we should never get really to the bottom of them. Mali's always springing some new one upon me. I don't believe we shall ever be able to leave the island—we're so hedged round with taboos. Even if we were to see a ship to-day, I don't believe they'd allow us to signal it."
There was a red sunset; a lurid, tropical, red-and-green sunset. It boded mischief.
They were passing by some huts at the moment, and over the stockade of one of them a tree was hanging with small yellow fruits, which Felix knew well in Fiji as wholesome and agreeable. He broke off a small branch as he passed; and offered a couple thoughtlessly to Muriel. She took them in her fingers, and tasted them gingerly. "They're not so bad," she said, taking another from the bough. "They're very much like gooseberries."
At the same moment, Felix popped one into his own mouth, and swallowed it without thinking.
Almost before they knew what had happened, with the same extraordinary rapidity as in the case of the wedding, the people in the cottages ran out, with every sign of fear and apprehension, and, seizing the branch from Felix's hands, began upbraiding the two Shadows for their want of attention.
"We couldn't help it," Toko exclaimed, with every appearance of guilt and horror on his face. "They were much too sharp for us. Their hearts are black. How could we two interfere? These gods are so quick! They had picked and eaten them before we ever saw them."
One of the men raised his hand with a threatening air—but against the Shadow, not against the sacred person of Felix. "He will be ill," he said, angrily, pointing toward the white man; "and she will, too. Their hearts are indeed black. They have sown the seed of the wind. They have both of them eaten of it. They will both be ill. You deserve to die! And what will come now to our trees and plantations?"
The crowd gathered round them, cursing low and horribly. The two terrified Europeans slunk off to their huts, unaware of their exact crime, and closely followed by a scowling but despondent mob of natives. As they crossed their sacred boundary, Muriel cried, with a sudden outburst of tears, "Oh, Felix, what on earth shall we ever do to get rid of this terrible, unendurable godship!"
The natives without set up a great shout of horror. "See, see! she cries!" they exclaimed, in indescribable panic. "She has eaten the storm-fruit, and already she cries! Oh, clouds, restrain yourselves! Oh, great queen, mercy! Whatever will become of us and our poor huts and gardens!"
And for hours they crouched around, beating their breasts and shrieking.
That evening, Muriel sat up late in Felix's hut, with Mali by her side, too frightened to go back into her own alone before those angry people. And all the time, just beyond the barrier line, they could hear, above the whistle of the wind around the hut, the droning voices of dozens of natives, cowering low on the ground; they seemed to be going through some litany or chant, as if to deprecate the result of this imprudent action.
"What are they doing outside?" Felix asked of his Shadow at last, after a peculiarly long wail of misery.
And the Shadow made answer, in very solemn tones, "They are trying to propitiate your mightiness, and to avert the omen, lest the rain should fall, and the wind should blow, and the storm-cloud should burst over the island to destroy them."
Then Felix remembered suddenly of himself that the season when this storm-fruit, or storm-apple, as they called it, was ripe in Fiji, was also the season when the great Pacific cyclones most often swept over the land in full fury—storms unexampled on any other sea, like that famous one which wrecked so many European men-of-war a few years since in the harbor of Samoa.
And without, the wail came louder and clearer still! "If you sow the bread-fruit seed, you will reap the breadfruit. If you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind. They have eaten the storm-fruit. Oh, great king, save us!"
REAPING THE WHIRLWIND.
Toward midnight Muriel began to doze lightly from pure fatigue.
"Put a pillow under her head, and let her sleep," Felix said in a whisper. "Poor child, it would be cruel to send her alone to-night into her own quarters."
And Mali slipped a pillow of mulberry paper under her mistress's head, and laid it on her own lap, and bent down to watch her.
But outside, beyond the line, the natives murmured loud their discontent. "The Queen of the Clouds stays in the King of the Rain's hut to-night," they muttered, angrily. "She will not listen to us. Before morning, be sure, the Tempest will be born of their meeting to destroy us."
About two o'clock there came a lull in the wind, which had been rising steadily ever since that lurid sunset. Felix looked out of the hut door. The moon was full. It was almost as clear as day with the bright tropical moonlight, silvery in the open, pale green in the shadow. The people were still squatting in great rings round the hut, just outside the taboo line, and beating gongs, and sticks and human bones, to keep time to the lilt of their lugubrious litany.
The air felt unusually heavy and oppressive. Felix raised his eyes to the sky, and saw whisps of light cloud drifting in rapid flight over the scudding moon. Below, an ominous fog bank gathered steadily westward. Then one clap of thunder rent the sky. After it came a deadly silence. The moon was veiled. All was dark as pitch. The natives themselves fell on their faces and prayed with mute lips. Three minutes later, the cyclone had burst upon them in all its frenzy.
Such a hurricane Felix had never before experienced. Its energy was awful. Round the palm-trees the wind played a frantic and capricious devil's dance. It pirouetted about the atoll in the mad glee of unconsciousness. Here and there it cleared lanes, hundreds of yards in length, among the forest-trees and the cocoanut plantations. The noise of snapping and falling trunks rang thick on the air. At times the cyclone would swoop down from above upon the swaying stem of some tall and stately palm that bent like grass before the wind, break it off short with a roar at the bottom, and lay it low at once upon the ground, with a crash like thunder. In other places, little playful whirlwinds seemed to descend from the sky in the very midst of the dense brushwood, where they cleared circular patches, strewn thick under foot with trunks and branches in their titanic sport, and yet left unhurt all about the surrounding forest. Then again a special cyclone of gigantic proportions would advance, as it were, in a single column against one stem of a clump, whirl round it spirally like a lightning flash, and, deserting it for another, leave it still standing, but turned and twisted like a screw by the irresistible force of its invisible fingers. The storm-god, said Toko, was dancing with the palm-trees. The sight was awful. Such destructive energy Felix had never even imagined before. No wonder the savages all round beheld in it the personal wrath of some mighty spirit.
For in spite of the black clouds they could see it all—both the Europeans and the islanders. The intense darkness of the night was lighted up for them every minute by an almost incessant blaze of sheet and forked lightning. The roar of the thunder mingled with the roar of the tempest, each in turn overtopping and drowning the other. The hut where Felix and Muriel sheltered themselves shook before the storm; the very ground of the island trembled and quivered—like the timbers of a great ship before a mighty sea—at each onset of the breakers upon the surrounding fringe-reef. And side by side with it all, to crown their misery, wild torrents of rain, descending in waterspouts, as it seemed, or dashed in great sheets against the roof of their frail tenement, poured fitfully on with fierce tropical energy.
In the midst of the hut Muriel crouched and prayed with bloodless lips to Heaven. This was too, too terrible. It seemed incredible to her that on top of all they had been called upon to suffer of fear and suspense at the hands of the savages, the very dumb forces of nature themselves should thus be stirred up to open war against them. Her faith in Providence was sorely tried. Dumb forces, indeed! Why, they roared with more terrible voices than any wild beast on earth could possibly compass. The thunder and the wind were howling each other down in emulous din, and the very hiss of the lightning could be distinctly heard, like some huge snake, at times above the creaking and snapping of the trees before the gale in the surrounding forest.
Muriel crouched there long, in the mute misery of utter despair. At her feet Mali crouched too, as frightened as herself, but muttering aloud from time to time, in a reproachful voice, "I tell Missy Queenie what going to happen. I warn her not. I tell her she must not eat that very bad storm-apple. But Missy Queenie no listen. Her take her own way, then storm come down upon us."
And Felix's Shadow, in his own tongue, exclaimed more than once in the self-same tone, half terror, half expostulation, "See now what comes from breaking taboo? You eat the storm-fruit. The storm-fruit suits ill with the King of the Rain and the Queen of the Clouds. The heavens have broken loose. The sea has boiled. See what wind and what flood you are bringing upon us."
By and by, above even the fierce roar of the mingled thunder and cyclone, a wild orgy of noise burst upon them all from without the hut. It was a sound as of numberless drums and tom-toms, all beaten in unison with the mad energy of fear; a hideous sound, suggestive of some hateful heathen devil-worship. Muriel clapped her hands to her ears in horror. "Oh, what's that?" she cried to Felix, at this new addition to their endless alarms. "Are the savages out there rising in a body? Have they come to murder us?"
"Perhaps," Felix said, smoothing her hair with his hand, as a mother might soothe her terrified child, "perhaps they're angry with us for having caused this storm, as they think, by our foolish action. I believe they all set it down to our having unluckily eaten that unfortunate fruit. I'll go out to the door myself and speak to them."
Muriel clung to his arm with a passionate clinging.
"Oh, Felix," she cried, "no! Don't leave me here alone. My darling, I love you. You're all the world there is left to me now, Felix. Don't go out to those wretches and leave me here alone. They'll murder you! they'll murder you! Don't go out, I implore you. If they mean to kill us, let them kill us both together, in one another's arms. Oh, Felix, I am yours, and you are mine, my darling!"
It was the first time either of them had acknowledged the fact; but there, before the face of that awful convulsion of nature, all the little deceptions and veils of life seemed rent asunder forever as by a flash of lightning. They stood face to face with each other's souls, and forgot all else in the agony of the moment. Felix clasped the trembling girl in his arms like a lover. The two Shadows looked on and shook with silent terror. If the King of the Rain thus embraced the Queen of the Clouds before their very eyes, amid so awful a storm, what unspeakable effects might not follow at once from it! But they had too much respect for those supernatural creatures to attempt to interfere with their action at such a moment. They accepted their masters almost as passively as they accepted the wind and the thunder, which they believed to arise from them.
Felix laid his poor Muriel tenderly down on the mud floor again. "I must go out, my child," he said. "For the very love of you, I must play the man, and find out what these savages mean by their drumming."
He crept to the door of the hut (for no man could walk upright before that awful storm), and peered out into the darkness once more, awaiting one of the frequent flashes of lightning. He had not long to wait. In a moment the sky was all ablaze again from end to end, and continued so for many seconds consecutively. By the light of the continuous zigzags of fire, Felix could see for himself that hundreds and hundreds of natives—men, women, and children, naked, or nearly so, with their hair loose and wet about their cheeks—lay flat on their faces, many courses deep, just outside the taboo line. The wind swept over them with extraordinary force, and the tropical rain descended in great floods upon their bare backs and shoulders. But the savages, as if entranced, seemed to take no heed of all these earthly things. They lay grovelling in the mud before some unseen power; and beating their tom-toms in unison, with barbaric concord, they cried aloud once more as Felix appeared, in a weird litany that overtopped the tumultuous noise of the tempest, "Oh, Storm-God, hear us! Oh, great spirit, deliver us! King of the Rain and Queen of the Clouds, befriend us! Be angry no more! Hide your wrath from your people! Take away your hurricane, and we will bring you many gifts. Eat no longer of the storm-apple—the seed of the wind—and we will feed you with yam and turtle, and much choice bread-fruit. Great king, we are yours; you shall choose which you will of our children for your meat and drink; you shall sup on our blood. But take your storm away; do not utterly drown and submerge our island!"
As they spoke they crawled nearer and nearer, with gliding serpentine motion, till their heads almost touched the white line of coral. But not a man of them all went one inch beyond it. They stopped there and gazed at him. Felix signed to them with his hand, and pointed vaguely to the sky, as much as to say he was not responsible. At the gesture the whole assembly burst into one loud shout of gratitude. "He has heard us, he has heard us!" they exclaimed, with a perfect wail of joy. "He will not utterly destroy us. He will take away his storm. He will bring the sun and the moon back to us."
Felix returned into the hut, somewhat reassured so far as the attitude of the savages went. "Don't be afraid of them, Muriel," he cried, taking her passionately once more in a tender embrace. "They daren't cross the taboo. They won't come near; they're too frightened themselves to dream of hurting us."
AFTER THE STORM.
Next morning the day broke bright and calm, as if the tempest had been but an evil dream of the night, now past forever. The birds sang loud; the lizards came forth from their holes in the wall, and basked, green and gold, in the warm, dry sunshine. But though the sky overhead was blue and the air clear, as usually happen after these alarming tropical cyclones and rainstorms, the memorials of the great wind that had raged all night long among the forests of the island were neither few nor far between. Everywhere the ground was strewn with leaves and branches and huge stems of cocoa-palms. All nature was draggled. Many of the trees were stripped clean of their foliage, as completely as oaks in an English winter; on others, big strands of twisted fibres marked the scars and joints where mighty boughs had been torn away by main force; while, elsewhere, bare stumps alone remained to mark the former presence of some noble dracaena or some gigantic banyan. Bread-fruits and cocoanuts lay tossed in the wildest confusion on the ground; the banana and plantain-patches were beaten level with the soil or buried deep in the mud; many of the huts had given way entirely; abundant wreckage strewed every corner of the island. It was an awful sight. Muriel shuddered to herself to see how much the two that night had passed through.
What the outer fringing reef had suffered from the storm they hardly knew as yet; but from the door of the hut Felix could see for himself how even the calm waters of the inner lagoon had been lashed into wild fury by the fierce swoop of the tempest. Round the entire atoll the solid conglomerate coral floor was scooped under, broken up, chewed fine by the waves, or thrown in vast fragments on the beach of the island. By the eastern shore, in particular, just opposite their hut, Felix observed a regular wall of many feet in height, piled up by the waves like the familiar Chesil Beach near his old home in Dorsetshire. It was the shelter of that temporary barrier alone, no doubt, that had preserved their huts last night from the full fury of the gale, and that had allowed the natives to congregate in such numbers prone on their faces in the mud and rain, upon the unconsecrated ground outside their taboo-line.
But now not an islander was to be seen within ear-shot. All had gone away to look after their ruined huts or their beaten-down plantain-patches, leaving the cruel gods, who, as they thought, had wrought all the mischief out of pure wantonness, to repent at leisure the harm done during the night to their obedient votaries.
Felix was just about to cross the taboo-line and walk down to the shore to examine the barrier, when Toko, his Shadow, laying his hand on his shoulder with more genuine interest and affection than he had ever yet shown, exclaimed, with some horror, "Oh, no! Not that! Don't dare to go outside! It would be very dangerous for you. If my people were to catch you on profane soil just now, there's no saying what harm they might do to you."
"Why so?" Felix exclaimed, in surprise. "Last night, surely, they were all prayers and promises and vows and entreaties."
The young man nodded his head in acquiescence. "Ah, yes; last night," he answered. "That was very well then. Vows were sore needed. The storm was raging, and you were within your taboo. How could they dare to touch you, a mighty god of the tempest, at the very moment when you were rending their banyan-trees and snapping their cocoanut stems with your mighty arms like so many little chicken-bones? Even Tu-Kila-Kila himself, I expect, the very high god, lay frightened in his temple, cowering by his tree, annoyed at your wrath; he sent Fire and Water among the worshippers, no doubt, to offer up vows and to appease your anger."
Then Felix remembered, as his Shadow spoke, that, as a matter of fact, he had observed the men who usually wore the red and white feather cloaks among the motley crowd of grovelling natives who lay flat on their faces in the mud of the cleared space the night before, and prayed hard for mercy. Only they were not wearing their robes of office at the moment, in accordance with a well-known savage custom; they had come naked and in disgrace, as befits all suppliants. They had left behind them the insignia of their rank in their own shaken huts, and bowed down their bare backs to the rain and the lightning.
"Yes, I saw them among the other islanders," Felix answered, half-smiling, but prudently remaining within the taboo-line, as his Shadow advised him.
Toko kept his hand still on his master's shoulder. "Oh, king," he said, beseechingly, and with great solemnity, "I am doing wrong to warn you; I am breaking a very great Taboo. I don't know what harm may come to me for telling you. Perhaps Tu-Kila-Kila will burn me to ashes with one glance of his eyes. He may know this minute what I'm saying here alone to you."
It is hard for a white man to meet scruples like this; but Felix was bold enough to answer outright: "Tu-Kila-Kila knows nothing of the sort, and can never find out. Take my word for it, Toko, nothing that you say to me will ever reach Tu-Kila-Kila."
The Shadow looked at him doubtfully, and trembled as he spoke. "I like you, Korong," he said, with a genuinely truthful ring in his voice. "You seem to me so kind and good—so different from other gods, who are very cruel. You never beat me. Nobody I ever served treated me as well or as kindly as you have done. And for your sake I will even dare to break taboo—if you're quite, quite sure Tu-Kila-Kila will never discover it."
"I'm quite sure," Felix answered, with perfect confidence. "I know it for certain. I swear a great oath to it."
"You swear by Tu-Kila-Kila himself?" the young savage asked, anxiously.
"I swear by Tu-Kila-Kila himself," Felix replied at once. "I swear, without doubt. He can never know it."
"That is a great Taboo," the Shadow went on, meditatively, stroking Felix's arm. "A very great Taboo indeed. A terrible medicine. And you are a god; I can trust you. Well, then, you see, the secret is this: you are Korong, but you are a stranger, and you don't understand the ways of Boupari. If for three days after the end of this storm, which Tu-Kila-Kila has sent Fire and Water to pray and vow against, you or the Queen of the Clouds show yourselves outside your own taboo-line—why, then, the people are clear of sin; whoever takes you may rend you alive; they will tear you limb from limb and cut you into pieces."
"Why so?" Felix asked, aghast at this discovery. They seemed to live on a perpetual volcano in this wonderful island; and a volcano ever breaking out in fresh places. They could never get to the bottom of its horrible superstitions.
"Because you ate the storm-apple," the Shadow answered, confidently. "That was very wrong. You brought the tempest upon us yourselves by your own trespass; therefore, by the custom of Boupari, which we learn in the mysteries, you become full Korong for the sacrifice at once. That makes the term for you. The people will give you all your dues; then they will say, 'We are free; we have bought you with a price; we have brought your cocoanuts. No sin attaches to us; we are righteous; we are righteous.' And then they will kill you, and Fire and Water will roast you and boil you."
"But only if we go outside the taboo-line?" Felix asked, anxiously.
"Only if you go outside the taboo-line," the Shadow replied, nodding a hasty assent. "Inside it, till your term comes, even Tu-Kila-Kila himself, the very high god, whose meat we all are, dare never hurt you."
"Till our term comes?" Felix inquired, once more astonished and perplexed. "What do you mean by that, my Shadow?"
But the Shadow was either bound by some superstitious fear, or else incapable of putting himself into Felix's point of view. "Why, till you are full Korong," he answered, like one who speaks of some familiar fact, as who should say, till you are forty years old, or, till your beard grows white. "Of course, by and by, you will be full Korong. I cannot help you then; but, till that time comes, I would like to do my best by you. You have been very kind to me. I tell you much. More than this, it would not be lawful for me to mention."
And that was the most that, by dexterous questioning, Felix could ever manage to get out of his mysterious Shadow.
"At the end of three days we will be safe, though?" he inquired at last, after all other questions failed to produce an answer.
"Oh, yes, at the end of three days the storm will have blown over," the young man answered, easily. "All will then be well. You may venture out once more. The rain will have dried over all the island. Fire and Water will have no more power over you."
Felix went back to the hut to inform Muriel of this new peril thus suddenly sprung upon them. Poor Muriel, now almost worn out with endless terrors, received it calmly. "I'm growing accustomed to it all, Felix," she answered, resignedly. "If only I know that you will keep your promise, and never let me fall alive into these wretches' hands, I shall feel quite safe. Oh, Felix, do you know when you took me in your arms like that last night, in spite of everything, I felt positively happy."
About ten o'clock they were suddenly roused by a sound of many natives, coming in quick succession, single file, to the huts, and shouting aloud, "Oh, King of the Rain, oh, Queen of the Clouds, come forth for our vows! Receive your presents!"
Felix went forth to the door to look. With a warning look in his eyes, his Shadow followed him. The natives were now coming up by dozens at a time, bringing with them, in great arm-loads, fallen cocoanuts and breadfruits, and branches of bananas, and large draggled clusters of half-ripe plantains.
"Why, what are all these?" Felix exclaimed in surprise.
His Shadow looked up at him, as if amused at the absurd simplicity of the question. "These are yours, of course," he said; "yours and the Queen's; they are the windfalls you made. Did you not knock them all off the trees for yourselves when you were coming down in such sheets from the sky last evening?"
Felix wrung his hands in positive despair. It was clear, indeed, that to the minds of the natives there was no distinguishing personally between himself and Muriel, and the rain or the cyclone.
"Will they bring them all in?" he asked, gazing in alarm at the huge pile of fruits the natives were making outside the huts.
"Yes, all," the Shadow answered; "they are vows; they are godsends; but if you like, you can give some of them back. If you give much back, of course it will make my people less angry with you."
Felix advanced near the line, holding his hand up before him to command silence. As he did so, he was absolutely appalled himself at the perfect storm of execration and abuse which his appearance excited. The foremost natives, brandishing their clubs and stone-tipped spears, or shaking their fists by the line, poured forth upon his devoted head at once all the most frightful curses of the Polynesian vocabulary. "Oh, evil god," they cried aloud with angry faces, "oh, wicked spirit! you have a bad heart. See what a wrong you have purposely done us. If your heart were not bad, would you treat us like this? If you are indeed a god, come out across the line, and let us try issues together. Don't skulk like a coward in your hut and within your taboo, but come out and fight us. We are not afraid, who are only men. Why are you afraid of us?"
Felix tried to speak once more, but the din drowned his voice. As he paused, the people set up their loud shouts again. "Oh, you wicked god! You eat the storm-apple! You have wrought us much harm. You have spoiled our harvest. How you came down in great sheets last night! It was pitiful, pitiful! We would like to kill you. You might have taken our bread-fruits and our bananas, if you would; we give you them freely; they are yours; here, take them. We feed you well; we make you many offerings. But why did you wish to have our huts also? Why did you beat down our young plantations and break our canoes against the beach of the island? That shows a bad heart! You are an evil god! You dare not defend yourself. Come out and meet us."
A POINT OF THEOLOGY.
At last, with great difficulty, Felix managed to secure a certain momentary lull of silence. The natives, clustering round the line till they almost touched it, listened with scowling brows, and brandished threatening spears, tipped with points of stone or shark's teeth or turtle-bone, while he made his speech to them. From time to time, one or another interrupted him, coaxing and wheedling him, as it were, to cross the line; but Felix never heeded them. He was beginning to understand now how to treat this strange people. He took no notice of their threats or their entreaties either.
By and by, partly by words and partly by gestures, he made them understand that they might take back and keep for themselves all the cocoanuts and bread-fruits they had brought as windfalls. At this the people seemed a little appeased. "His heart is not quite so bad as we thought," they murmured among themselves; "but if he didn't want them, what did he mean? Why did he beat down our huts and our plantations?"
Then Felix tried to explain to them—a somewhat dangerous task—that neither he nor Muriel were really responsible for last night's storm; but at that the people, with one accord, raised a great loud shout of unmixed derision. "He is a god," they cried, "and yet he is ashamed of his own acts and deeds, afraid of what we, mere men, will do to him! Ha! ha! Take care! These are lies that he tells. Listen to him! Hear him!"
Meanwhile, more and more natives kept coming up with windfalls of fruit, or with objects they had vowed in their terror to dedicate during the night; and Felix all the time kept explaining at the top of his voice, to all as they came, that he wanted nothing, and that they could take all back again. This curiously inconsistent action seemed to puzzle the wondering natives strangely. Had he made the storm, then, they asked, and eaten the storm-apple, for no use to himself, but out of pure perverseness? If he didn't even want the windfalls and the objects vowed to him, why had he beaten down their crops and broken their houses? They looked at him meaningly; but they dared not cross that great line of taboo. It was their own superstition alone, in that moment of danger, that kept their hands off those defenceless white people.
At last a happy idea seemed to strike the crowd. "What he wants is a child?" they cried, effusively. "He thirsts for blood! Let us kill and roast him a proper victim!"
Felix's horror at this appalling proposition knew no bounds. "If you do," he cried, turning their own superstition against them in this last hour of need, "I will raise up a storm worse even than last night's! You do it at your peril! I want no victim. The people of my country eat not of human flesh. It is a thing detestable, horrible, hateful to God and man. With us, all human life alike is sacred. We spill no blood. If you dare to do as you say, I will raise such a storm over your heads to-night as will submerge and drown the whole of your island."
The natives listened to him with profound interest. "We must spill no blood!" they repeated, looking aghast at one another. "Hear what the King says! We must not cut the victim's throat. We must bind a child with cords and roast it alive for him!"
Felix hardly knew what to do or say at this atrocious proposal. "If you roast it alive," he cried, "you deserve to be all scorched up with lightning. Take care what you do! Spare the child's life! I will have no victim. Beware how you anger me!"
But the savage no sooner says than he does. With him deliberation is unknown, and impulse everything. In a moment the natives had gathered in a circle a little way off, and began drawing lots. Several children, seized hurriedly up among the crowd, were huddled like so many sheep in the centre. Felix looked on from his enclosure, half petrified with horror. The lot fell upon a pretty little girl of five years old. Without one word of warning, without one sign of remorse, before Felix's very eyes, they began to bind the struggling and terrified child just outside the circle.
The white man could stand this horrid barbarity no longer. At the risk of his life—at the risk of Muriel's—he must rush out to prevent them. They should never dare to kill that helpless child before his very eyes. Come what might—though even Muriel should suffer for it—he felt he must rescue that trembling little creature. Drawing his trusty knife, and opening the big blade ostentatiously before their eyes, he made a sudden dart like a wild beast across the line, and pounced down upon the party that guarded the victim.
Was it a ruse to make him cross the line, alone, or did they really mean it? He hardly knew; but he had no time to debate the abstract question. Bursting into their midst, he seized the child with a rush in his circling arms, and tried to hurry back with it within the protecting taboo-line.
Quick as lightning he was surrounded and almost cut down by a furious and frantic mob of half-naked savages. "Kill him! Tear him to pieces!" they cried in their rage. "He has a bad heart! He destroyed our huts! He broke down our plantations! Kill him, kill him, kill him!"
As they closed in upon him, with spears and tomahawks and clubs, Felix saw he had nothing left for it now but a hard fight for life to return to the taboo-line. Holding the child in one arm, and striking wildly out with his knife with the other, he tried to hack his way back by main force to the shelter of the taboo-line in frantic lunges. The distance was but a few feet, but the savages pressed round him, half frightened still, yet gnashing their teeth and distorting their faces with anger. "He has broken the Taboo," they cried in vehement tones. "He has crossed the line willingly. Kill him! Kill him! We are free from sin. We have bought him with a price—with many cocoanuts!"
At the sound of the struggle going on so close outside, Muriel rushed in frantic haste and terror from the hut. Her face was pale, but her demeanor was resolute. Before Mali could stop her, she, too, had crossed the sacred line of the coral mark, and had flung herself madly upon Felix's assailants, to cover his retreat with her own frail body.
"Hold off!" she cried, in her horror, in English, but in accents even those savages could read. "You shall not touch him!"
With a fierce effort Felix tore his way back, through the spears and clubs, toward the place of safety. The savages wounded him on the way more than once with their jagged stone spear-tips, and blood flowed from his breast and arms in profusion. But they didn't dare even so to touch Muriel. The sight of that pure white woman, rushing out in her weakness to protect her lover's life from attack, seemed to strike them with some fresh access of superstitious awe. One or two of themselves were wounded by Felix's knife, for they were unaccustomed to steel, though they had a few blades made out of old European barrel-hoops. For a minute or two the conflict was sharp and hotly contested. Then at last Felix managed to fling the child across the line, to push Muriel with one hand at arm's-length before him, and to rush himself within the sacred circle.
No sooner had he crossed it than the savages drew up around, undecided as yet, but in a threatening body. Rank behind rank, their loose hair in their eyes, they stood like wild beasts balked of their prey, and yelled at him. Some of them brandished their spears and their stone hatchets angrily in their victims' faces. Others contented themselves with howling aloud as before, and piling curses afresh on the heads of the unpopular storm-gods. "Look at her," they cried, in their wrath, pointing their skinny brown fingers angrily at Muriel. "See, she weeps even now. She would flood us with her rain. She isn't satisfied with all the harm she has poured down upon Boupari already. She wants to drown us."
And then a little knot drew up close to the line of taboo itself, and began to discuss in loud and serious tones a pressing question of savage theology and religious practice.
"They have crossed the line within the three days," some of the foremost warriors exclaimed, in excited voices. "They are no longer taboo. We can do as we please with them. We may cross the line now ourselves if we will, and tear them to pieces. Come on! Who follows? Korong! Korong! Let us rend them! Let us eat them!"
But though they spoke so bravely they hung back themselves, fearful of passing that mysterious barrier. Others of the crowd answered them back, warmly: "No, no; not so. Be careful what you do. Anger not the gods. Don't ruin Boupari. If the Taboo is not indeed broken, then how dare we break it? They are gods. Fear their vengeance. They are, indeed, terrible. See what happened to us when they merely ate of the storm-apple! What might not happen if we were to break taboo without due cause and kill them?"
One old, gray-bearded warrior, in particular, held his countrymen back. "Mind how you trifle with gods," the old chief said, in a tone of solemn warning. "Mind how you provoke them. They are very mighty. When I was young, our people killed three sailing gods who came ashore in a small canoe, built of thin split logs; and within a month an awful earthquake devastated Boupari, and fire burst forth from a mouth in the ground, and the people knew that the spirits of the sailing gods were very angry. Wait, therefore, till Tu-Kila-Kila himself comes, and then ask of him, and of Fire and Water. As Tu-Kila-Kila bids you, that do you do. Is he not our great god, the king of us all, and the guardian of the customs of the island of Boupari?"
"Is Tu-Kila-Kila coming?" some of the warriors asked, with bated breath.
"How should he not come?" the old chief asked, drawing himself up very erect. "Know you not the mysteries? The rain has put out all the fires in Boupari. The King of Fire himself, even his hearth is cold. He tried his best in the storm to keep his sacred embers still smouldering; but the King of the Rain was stronger than he was, and put it out at last in spite of his endeavors. Be careful, therefore, how you deal with the King of the Rain, who comes down among lightnings, and is so very powerful."