"And Tu-Kila-Kila comes to fetch fresh fire?" one of the nearest savages asked, with profound awe.
"He comes to fetch fresh fire, new fire from the sun," the old man answered, with awe in his voice. "These foreign gods, are they not strangers from the sun? They have brought the divine seeds of fire, growing in a shining box that reflects the sunlight. They need no rubbing-sticks and no drill to kindle fresh flame. They touch the seed on the box, and, lo, like a miracle, fire bursts forth from the wood spontaneous. Tu-Kila-Kila comes, to behold this miracle."
The warriors hung back with doubtful eyes for a moment. Then they spoke with one accord, "Tu-Kila-Kila shall decide. Tu-Kila-Kila! Tu-Kila-Kila! If the great god says the Taboo holds good, we will not hurt or offend the strangers. But if the great god says the Taboo is broken, and we are all without sin—then, Korong! Korong! we will kill them! We will eat them!"
As the two parties thus stood glaring at one another, across that narrow imaginary wall, another cry went up to heaven at the distant sound of a peculiar tom-tom. "Tu-Kila-Kila comes!" they shouted. "Our great god approaches! Women, begone! Men, hide your eyes! Fly, fly from the brightness of his face, which is as the sun in glory! Tu-Kila-Kila comes! Fly far, all profane ones!"
And in a moment the women had disappeared into space, and the men lay flat on the moist ground with low groans of surprise, and hid their faces in their hands in abject terror.
AS BETWEEN GODS.
Tu-Kila-Kila came up in his grandest panoply. The great umbrella, with the hanging cords, rose high over his head; the King of Fire and the King of Water, in their robes of state, marched slowly by his side; a whole group of slaves and temple attendants, clapping hands in unison, followed obedient at his sacred heels. But as soon as he reached the open space in front of the huts and began to speak, Felix could easily see, in spite of his own agitation and the excitement of the moment, that the implacable god himself was profoundly frightened. Last night's storm had, indeed, been terrible; but Tu-Kila-Kila mentally coupled it with Felix's attitude toward himself at their last interview, and really believed in his own heart he had met, after all, with a stronger god, more powerful than himself, who could make the clouds burst forth in fire and the earth tremble. The savage swaggered a good deal, to be sure, as is often the fashion with savages when frightened; but Felix could see between the lines, that he swaggered only on the familiar principle of whistling to keep your courage up, and that in his heart of hearts he was most unspeakably terrified.
"You did not do well, O King of the Rain, last night," he said, after an interchange of civilities, as becomes great gods. "You have put out even the sacred flame on the holy hearth of the King of Fire. You have a bad heart. Why do you use us so?"
"Why do you let your people offer human sacrifices?" Felix answered, boldly, taking advantage of his position. "They are hateful in our sight, these cannibal ways. While we remain on the island, no human life shall be unjustly taken. Do you understand me?"
Tu-Kila-Kila drew back, and gazed around him suspiciously. In all his experience no one had ever dared to address him like that. Assuredly, the stranger from the sun must be a very great god—how great, he hardly dared to himself to realize. He shrugged his shoulders. "When we mighty deities of the first order speak together, face to face," he said, with an uneasy air, "it is not well that the mere common herd of men should overhear our profound deliberations. Let us go inside your hut. Let us confer in private."
They entered the hut alone, Muriel still clinging to Felix's arm, in speechless terror. Then Felix at once began to explain the situation. As he spoke, a baleful light gleamed in Tu-Kila-Kila's eye. The great god removed his mulberry-paper mask. He was evidently delighted at the turn things had taken. If only he dared—but there; he dared not. "Fire and Water would never allow it," he murmured softly to himself. "They know the taboos as well as I do." It was clear to Felix that the savage would gladly have sacrificed him if he dared, and that he made no bones about letting him know it; but the custom of the islanders bound him as tightly as it bound themselves, and he was afraid to transgress it.
"Now listen," Felix said, at last, after a long palaver, looking in the savage's face with a resolute air: "Tu-Kila-Kila, we are not afraid of you. We are not afraid of all your people. I went out alone just now to rescue that child, and, as you see, I succeeded in rescuing it. Your people have wounded me—look at the blood on my arms and chest—but I don't mind for wounds. I mean you to do as I say, and to make your people do so, too. Understand, the nation to which I belong is very powerful. You have heard of the sailing gods who go over the sea in canoes of fire, as swift as the wind, and whose weapons are hollow tubes, that belch forth great bolts of lightning and thunder? Very well, I am one of them. If ever you harm a hair of our heads, those sailing gods will before long send one of their mighty fire-canoes, and bring to bear upon your island their thunder and lightning, and destroy your huts, and punish you for the wrong you have ventured to do us. So now you know. Remember that you act exactly as I tell you."
Tu-Kila-Kila was evidently overawed by the white man's resolute voice and manner. He had heard before of the sailing gods (as the Polynesians of the old school still call the Europeans); and though but one or two stray individuals among them had ever reached his remote island (mostly as castaways), he was quite well enough acquainted with their might and power to be deeply impressed by Felix's exhortation. So he tried to temporize. "Very well," he made answer, with his jauntiest air, assuming a tone of friendly good-fellowship toward his brother-god. "I will bear it in mind. I will try to humor you. While your time lasts, no man shall hurt you. But if I promise you that, you must do a good turn for me instead. You must come out before the people and give me a new fire from the sun, that you carry in a shining box about with you. The King of Fire has allowed his sacred flame to go out in deference to your flood; for last night, you know, you came down heavily. Never in my life have I known you come down heavier. The King of Fire acknowledges himself beaten. So give us light now before the people, that they may know we are gods, and may fear to disobey us."
"Only on one condition," Felix answered, sternly; for he felt he had Tu-Kila-Kila more or less in his power now, and that he could drive a bargain with him. Why, he wasn't sure; but he saw Tu-Kila-Kila attached a profound importance to having the sacred fire relighted, as he thought, direct from heaven.
"What condition is that?" Tu-Kila-Kila asked, glancing about him suspiciously.
"Why, that you give up in future human sacrifices."
Tu-Kila-Kila gave a start. Then he reflected for a moment. Evidently, the condition seemed to him a very hard one. "Do you want all the victims for yourself and her, then?" he asked, with a casual nod aside toward Muriel.
Felix drew back, with horror depicted on every line of his face. "Heaven forbid!" he answered, fervently. "We want no bloodshed, no human victims. We ask you to give up these horrid practices, because they shock and revolt us. If you would have your fire lighted, you must promise us to put down cannibalism altogether henceforth in your island."
Tu-Kila-Kila hesitated. After all, it was only for a very short time that these strangers could thus beard him. Their day would come soon. They were but Korongs. Meanwhile, it was best, no doubt, to effect a compromise. "Agreed," he answered, slowly. "I will put down human sacrifices—so long as you live among us. And I will tell the people your taboo is not broken. All shall be done as you will in this matter. Now, come out before the crowd and light the fire from Heaven."
"Remember," Felix repeated, "if you break your word, my people will come down upon you, sooner or later, in their mighty fire-canoes, and will take vengeance for your crime, and destroy you utterly."
Tu-Kila-Kila smiled a cunning smile. "I know all that," he answered. "I am a god myself, not a fool, don't you see? You are a very great god, too; but I am the greater. No more of words between us two. It is as between gods. The fire! the fire!"
Tu-Kila-Kila replaced his mask. They proceeded from the hut to the open space within the taboo-line. The people still lay all flat on their faces. "Fire and Water," Tu-Kila-Kila said, in a commanding tone, "come forward and screen me!"
The King of Fire and the King of Water unrolled a large square of native cloth, which they held up as a screen on two poles in front of their superior deity. Tu-Kila-Kila sat down on the ground, hugging his knees, in the common squatting savage fashion, behind the veil thus readily formed for him. "Taboo is removed," he said, in loud, clear tones. "My people may rise. The light will not burn them. They may look toward the place where Tu-Kila-Kila's face is hidden from them."
The people all rose with one accord, and gazed straight before them.
"The King of Fire will bring dry sticks," Tu-Kila-Kila said, in his accustomed regal manner.
The King of Fire, sticking one pole of the screen into the ground securely, brought forward a bundle of sun-dried sticks and leaves from a basket beside him.
"The King of the Rain, who has put out all our hearths with his flood last night, will relight them again with new fire, fresh flame from the sun, rays of our disk, divine, mystic, wonderful," Tu-Kila-Kila proclaimed, in his droning monotone.
Felix advanced as he spoke to the pile, and struck a match before the eyes of all the islanders. As they saw it light, and then set fire to the wood, a loud cry went up once more, "Tu-Kila-Kila is great! His words are true! He has brought fire from the sun! His ways are wonderful!"
Tu-Kila-Kila, from his point of vantage behind the curtain, strove to improve the occasion with a theological lesson. "That is the way we have learned from our divine ancestors," he said, slowly; "the rule of the gods in our island of Boupari. Each god, as he grows old, reincarnates himself visibly. Before he can grow feeble and die he immolates himself willingly on his own altar; and a younger and a stronger than he receives his spirit. Thus the gods are always young and always with you. Behold myself, Tu-Kila-Kila! Am I not from old times? Am I not very ancient? Have I not passed through many bodies? Do I not spring ever fresh from my own ashes? Do I not eat perpetually the flesh of new victims? Even so with fire. The flames of our island were becoming impure. The King of Fire saw his cinders flickering. So I gave my word. The King of the Rain descended in floods upon them. He put them all out. And now he rekindles them. They burn up brighter and fresher than ever. They burn to cook my meat, the limbs of my victims. Take heed that you do the King of the Rain no harm as long as he remains within his sacred circle. He is a very great god. He is fierce; he is cruel. His taboo is not broken. Beware! Beware! Disobey at your peril. I, Tu-Kila-Kila, have spoken."
As he spoke, it seemed to Felix that these strange mystic words about each god springing fresh from his own ashes must contain the solution of that dread problem they were trying in vain to read. That, perhaps, was the secret of Korong. If only they could ever manage to understand it!
Tu-Kila-Kila beat his tom-tom twice. In a second all the people fell flat on their faces again. Tu-Kila-Kila rose; the kings of Fire and Water held the umbrella over him. The attendants on either side clapped hands in time to the sacred tom-tom. With proud, slow tread, the god retraced his steps to his own palace-temple; and Muriel and Felix were left alone at last in their dusty enclosure.
"Tu-Kila-Kila hates me," Felix said, later in the day, to his attentive Shadow.
"Of course," the young man answered, with a tone of natural assent. "To be sure he hates you. How could he do otherwise? You are Korong. You may any day be his enemy."
"But he's afraid of me, too," Felix went on. "He would have liked to let the people tear me in pieces. Yet he dared not risk it. He seems to dread offending me."
"Of course," the Shadow replied, as readily as before. "He is very much afraid of you. You are Korong. You may any day supplant him. He would like to get rid of you, if he could see his way. But till your time comes he dare not touch you."
"When will my time come?" Felix asked, with that dim apprehension of some horrible end coming over him yet again in all its vague weirdness.
The Shadow shook his head. "That," he answered, "it is not lawful for me so much as to mention. I tell you too far. You will know soon enough. Wait, and be patient."
"MR. THURSTAN, I PRESUME."
Naturally enough, it was some time before Felix and Muriel could recover from the shock of their deadly peril. Yet, strange to say, the natives at the end of three days seemed positively to have forgotten all about it. Their loves and their hates were as shortlived as children's. As soon as the period of seclusion was over, their attentions to the two strangers redoubled in intensity. They were evidently most anxious, after this brief disagreement, to reassure the new gods, who came from the sun, of their gratitude and devotion. The men who had wounded Felix, in particular, now came daily in the morning with exceptional gifts of fish, fruit, and flowers; they would bring a crab from the sea, or a joint of turtle-meat. "Forgive us, O king," they cried, prostrating themselves humbly. "We did not mean to hurt you; we thought your time had really come. You are a Korong. We would not offend you. Do not refuse us your showers because of our sin. We are very penitent. We will do what you ask of us. Your look is poison. See, here is wood; here are leaves and fire; we are but your meat; choose and cook which you will of us!"
It was useless Felix's trying to explain to them that he wanted no victims, and no propitiation. The more he protested, the more they brought gifts. "He is a very great god," they exclaimed. "He wants nothing from us. What can we give him that will be an acceptable gift? Shall we offer him ourselves, our wives, our children?"
As for the women, when they saw how thoroughly frightened of them Muriel now was, they couldn't find means to express their regret and devotion. Mothers brought their little children, whom she had patted on the head, and offered them, just outside the line, as presents for her acceptance. They explained to her Shadow that they never meant to hurt her, and that, if only she would venture without the line, as of old, all should be well, and they would love and adore her. Mali translated to her mistress these speeches and prayers. "Them say, 'You come back, Queenie,'" she explained in her broken Queensland English. "'Boupari women love you very much. Boupari women glad you come. You kind; you beautiful! All Boupari men and women very much pleased with you and the gentleman, because you give back him cocoanut and fruit that you pick in the storm, and because you bring down fresh fire from heaven.'"
Gradually, after several days, Felix's confidence was so far restored that he ventured to stroll beyond the line again; and he found himself, indeed, most popular among the people. In various ways he picked up gradually the idea that the islanders generally disliked Tu-Kila-Kila, and liked himself; and that they somehow regarded him as Tu-Kila-Kila's natural enemy. What it could all mean he did not yet understand, though some inklings of an explanation occasionally occurred to him. Oh, how he longed now for the Month of Birds to end, in order that he might pay his long-deferred visit to the mysterious Frenchman, from whose voice his Shadow had fled on that fateful evening with such sudden precipitancy. The Frenchman, he judged, must have been long on the island, and could probably give him some satisfactory solution of this abstruse problem.
So he was glad, indeed, when one evening, some weeks later, his Shadow, observing the sky narrowly, remarked to him in a low voice, "New moon to-morrow! The Month of Birds will then be up. In the morning you can go and see your brother god at the Abode of Birds without breaking taboo. The Month of Turtles begins at sunrise. My family god is a turtle, so I know the day for it."
So great was Felix's impatience to settle this question, that almost before the sun was up next day he had set forth from his hut, accompanied as usual by his faithful Shadow. Their way lay past Tu-Kila-Kila's temple. As they went by the entrance with the bamboo posts, Felix happened to glance aside through the gate to the sacred enclosure. Early as it was, Tu-Kila-Kila was afoot already; and, to Felix's great surprise, was pacing up and down, with that stealthy, wary look upon his cunning face that Muriel had so particularly noted on the day of their first arrival. His spear stood in his hand, and his tomahawk hung by his left side; he peered about him suspiciously, with a cautious glance, as he walked round and round the sacred tree he guarded so continually. There was something weird and awful in the sight of that savage god, thus condemned by his own superstition and the custom of his people to tramp ceaselessly up and down before the sacred banyan.
At sight of Felix, however, a sudden burst of frenzy seemed to possess at once all Tu-Kila-Kila's limbs. He brandished his spear violently, and set himself spasmodically in a posture of defence. His brow grew black, and his eyes darted out eternal hate and suspicion. It was evident he expected an instant attack, and was prepared with all his might and main to resist aggression. Yet he never offered to desert his post by the tree or to assume the offensive. Clearly, he was guarding the sacred grove itself with jealous care, and was as eager for its safety as for his own life and honor.
Felix passed on, wondering what it all could mean, and turned with an inquiring glance to his trembling Shadow. As for Toko, he had held his face averted meanwhile, lest he should behold the great god, and be scorched to a cinder; but in answer to Felix's mute inquiry he murmured low: "Was Tu-Kila-Kila there? Were all things right? Was he on guard at his post by the tree already?"
"Yes," Felix replied, with that weird sense of mystery creeping over him now more profoundly than ever. "He was on guard by the tree and he looked at me angrily."
"Ah," the Shadow remarked, with a sigh of regret, "he keeps watch well. It will be hard work to assail him. No god in Boupari ever held his place so tight. Who wishes to take Tu-Kila-Kila's divinity must get up early."
They went on in silence to the little volcanic knoll near the centre of the island. There, in the neat garden plot they had observed before, a man, in the last relics of a very tattered European costume, much covered with a short cape of native cloth, was tending his flowers and singing to himself merrily. His back was turned to them as they came up. Felix paused a moment, unseen, and caught the words the stranger was singing:
"Tres jolie, Peu polie, Possedant un gros magot; Fort en gueule, Pas begueule; Telle etait—"
The stranger looked up, and paused in the midst of his lines, open-mouthed. For a moment he stood and stared astonished. Then, raising his native cap with a graceful air, and bowing low, as he would have bowed to a lady on the Boulevard, he advanced to greet a brother European with the familiar words, in good educated French, "Monsieur, I salute you!"
To Felix, the sound of a civilized voice in the midst of so much strange and primitive barbarism, was like a sudden return to some forgotten world, so deeply and profoundly did it move and impress him. He grasped the sunburnt Frenchman's rugged hand in his. "Who are you?" he cried, in the very best Parisian he could muster up on the spur of the moment. "And how did you come here?"
"Monsieur," the Frenchman answered, no less profoundly moved than himself, "this is, indeed, wonderful! Do I hear once more that beautiful language spoken? Do I find myself once more in the presence of a civilized person? What fortune! What happiness! Ah, it is glorious, glorious."
For some seconds they stood and looked at one another in silence, grasping their hands hard again and again with intense emotion; then Felix repeated his question a second time: "Who are you, monsieur? and where do you come from?"
"Your name, surname, age, occupation?" the Frenchman repeated, bursting forth at last into national levity. "Ah, monsieur, what a joy to hear those well-known inquiries in my ear once more. I hasten to gratify your legitimate curiosity. Name: Peyron; Christian name: Jules; age: forty-one; occupation: convict, escaped from New Caledonia."
Under any other circumstances that last qualification might possibly have been held an undesirable one in a new acquaintance. But on the island of Boupari, among so many heathen cannibals, prejudices pale before community of blood; even a New Caledonian convict is at least a Christian European. Felix received the strange announcement without the faintest shock of surprise or disgust. He would gladly have shaken hands then and there with M. Jules Peyron, indeed, had he introduced himself in even less equivocal language as a forger, a pickpocket, or an escaped house-breaker.
"And you, monsieur?" the ex-convict inquired, politely.
Felix told him in a few words the history of their accident and their arrival on the island.
"Comment?" the Frenchman exclaimed, with surprise and delight. "A lady as well; a charming English lady! What an acquisition to the society of Boupari! Quelle chance! Quel bonheur! Monsieur, you are welcome, and mademoiselle too! And in what quality do you live here? You are a god, I see; otherwise you would not have dared to transgress my taboo, nor would this young man—your Shadow, I suppose—have permitted you to do so. But which sort of god, pray? Korong—or Tula?"
"They call me Korong," Felix answered, all tremulous, feeling himself now on the very verge of solving this profound mystery.
"And mademoiselle as well?" the Frenchman exclaimed, in a tone of dismay.
"And mademoiselle as well," Felix replied. "At least, so I make out. We are both Korong. I have many times heard the natives call us so."
His new acquaintance seized his hand with every appearance of genuine alarm and regret. "My poor friend," he exclaimed, with a horrified face, "this is terrible, terrible! Tu-Kila-Kila is a very hard man. What can we do to save your life and mademoiselle's! We are powerless! Powerless! I have only that much to say. I condole with you! I commiserate you!"
"Why, what does Korong mean?" Felix asked, with blanched lips. "Is it then something so very terrible?"
"Terrible! Ah, terrible!" the Frenchman answered, holding up his hands in horror and alarm. "I hardly know how we can avert your fate. Step within my poor hut, or under the shade of my Tree of Liberty here, and I will tell you all the little I know about it."
THE SECRET OF KORONG.
"You have lived here long?" Felix asked, with tremulous interest, as he took a seat on the bench under the big tree, toward which his new host politely motioned him. "You know the people well, and all their superstitions?"
"Helas, yes, monsieur," the Frenchman answered, with a sigh of regret. "Eighteen years have I spent altogether in this beast of a Pacific; nine as a convict in New Caledonia, and nine more as a god here; and, believe me, I hardly know which is the harder post. Yours is the first White face I have ever seen since my arrival in this cursed island."
"And how did you come here?" Felix asked, half breathless, for the very magnitude of the stake at issue—no less a stake than Muriel's life—made him hesitate to put point-blank the question he had most at heart for the moment.
"Monsieur," the Frenchman answered, trying to cover his rags with his native cape, "that explains itself easily. I was a medical student in Paris in the days of the Commune. Ah! that beloved Paris—how far away it seems now from Boupari! Like all other students I was advanced—Republican, Socialist—what you will—a political enthusiast. When the events took place—the events of '70—I espoused with all my heart the cause of the people. You know the rest. The bourgeoisie conquered. I was taken red-handed, as the Versaillais said—my pistol in my grasp—an open revolutionist. They tried me by court-martial—br'r'r—no delay—guilty, M. le President—hard labor to perpetuity. They sent me with that brave Louise Michel and so many other good comrades of the cause to New Caledonia. There, nine years of convict life was more than enough for me. One day I found a canoe on the shore—a little Kanaka canoe—you know the type—a mere shapeless dug-out. Hastily I loaded it with food—yam, taro, bread-fruit—I pushed it off into the sea—I embarked alone—I intrusted myself and all my fortunes to the Bon Dieu and the wide Pacific. The Bon Dieu did not wholly justify my confidence. It is a way he has—that inscrutable one. Six weeks I floated hither and thither before varying winds. At last one evening I reached this island. I floated ashore. And, enfin, me voila!"
"Then you were a political prisoner only?" Felix said, politely.
M. Jules Peyron drew himself up with much dignity in his tattered costume. "Do I look like a card-sharper, monsieur?" he asked simply, with offended honor.
Felix hastened to reassure him of his perfect confidence. "On the contrary, monsieur," he said, "the moment I heard you were a convict from New Caledonia, I felt certain in my heart you could be nothing less than one of those unfortunate and ill-treated Communards."
"Monsieur," the Frenchman said, seizing his hand a second time, "I perceive that I have to do with a man of honor and a man of feeling. Well, I landed on this island, and they made me a god. From that day to this I have been anxious only to shuffle off my unwelcome divinity, and return as a mere man to the shores of Europe. Better be a valet in Paris, say I, than a deity of the best in Polynesia. It is a monotonous existence here—no society, no life—and the cuisine—bah, execrable! But till the other day, when your steamer passed, I have scarcely even sighted a European ship. A boat came here once, worse luck, to put off two girls (who didn't belong to Boupari), returned indentured laborers from Queensland; but, unhappily, it was during my taboo—the Month of Birds, as my jailers call it—and though I tried to go down to it or to make signals of distress, the natives stood round my hut with their spears in line, and prevented me by main force from signalling to them or communicating with them. Even the other day, I never heard of your arrival till a fortnight had elapsed, for I had been sick with fever, the fever of the country, and as soon as my Shadow told me of your advent it was my taboo again, and I was obliged to defer for myself the honor of calling upon my new acquaintances. I am a god, of course, and can do what I like; but while my taboo is on, ma foi, monsieur, I can hardly call my life my own, I assure you."
"But your taboo is up to-day," Felix said, "so my Shadow tells me."
"Your Shadow is a well-informed young man," M. Peyron answered, with easy French sprightliness. "As for my donkey of a valet, he never by any chance knows or tells me anything. I had just sent him out—the pig—to learn, if possible, your nationality and name, and what hours you preferred, as I proposed later in the day to pay my respects to mademoiselle, your friend, if she would deign to receive me."
"Miss Ellis would be charmed, I'm sure," Felix replied, smiling in spite of himself at so much Parisian courtliness under so ragged an exterior. "It is a great pleasure to us to find we are not really alone on this barbarous island. But you were going to explain to me, I believe, the exact nature of this peril in which we both stand—the precise distinction between Korong and Tula?"
"Alas, monsieur," the Frenchman replied, drawing circles in the dust with his stick with much discomposure, "I can only tell you I have been trying to make out the secret of this distinction myself ever since the first day I came to the island; but so reticent are all the natives about it, and so deep is the taboo by which the mystery is guarded, that even now I, who am myself Tula, can tell you but very little with certainty on the subject. All I can say for sure is this—that gods called Tula retain their godship in permanency for a very long time, although at the end some violent fate, which I do not clearly understand, is destined to befall them. That is my condition as King of the Birds—for no doubt they have told you that I, Jules Peyron—Republican, Socialist, Communist—have been elevated against my will to the honors of royalty. That is my condition, and it matters but little to me, for I know not when the end may come; and we can but die once; how or where, what matters? Meanwhile, I have my distractions, my little agrements—my gardens, my music, my birds, my native friends, my coquetries, my aviary. As King of the Birds, I keep a small collection of my subjects in the living form, not unworthy of a scientific eye. Monsieur is no ornithologist? Ah, no, I thought not. Well, for me, it matters little; my time is long. But for you and Mademoiselle, who are both Korong—" He paused significantly.
"What happens, then, to those who are Korong?" Felix asked, with a lump in his throat—not for himself, but for Muriel.
The Frenchman looked at him with a doubtful look. "Monsieur," he said, after a pause, "I hardly know how to break the truth to you properly. You are new to the island, and do not yet understand these savages. It is so terrible a fate. So deadly. So certain. Compose your mind to hear the worst. And remember that the worst is very terrible."
Felix's blood froze within him; but he answered bravely all the same, "I think I have guessed it myself already. The Korong are offered as human sacrifices to Tu-Kila-Kila."
"That is nearly so," his new friend replied, with a solemn nod of his head. "Every Korong is bound to die when his time comes. Your time will depend on the particular date when you were admitted to Heaven."
Felix reflected a moment. "It was on the 26th of last month," he answered, shortly.
"Very well," M. Peyron replied, after a brief calculation. "You have just six months in all to live from that date. They will offer you up by Tu-Kila-Kila's hut the day the sun reaches the summer solstice."
"But why did they make us gods then?" Felix interposed, with tremulous lips. "Why treat us with such honors meanwhile, if they mean in the end to kill us?"
He received his sentence of death with greater calmness than the Frenchman had expected. "Monsieur," the older arrival answered, with a reflective air, "there comes in the mystery. If we could solve that, we could find out also the way of escape for you. For there is a way of escape for every Korong: I know it well; I gather it from all the natives say; it is a part of their mysteries; but what it may be, I have hitherto, in spite of all my efforts, failed to discover. All I do know is this: Tu-Kila-Kila hates and dreads in his heart every Korong that is elevated to Heaven, and would do anything, if he dared, to get rid of him quietly. But he doesn't dare, because he is bound hand and foot himself, too, by taboos innumerable. Taboo is the real god and king of Boupari. All the island alike bows down to it and worships it."
"Have you ever known Korongs killed?" Felix asked once more, trembling.
"Yes, monsieur. Many of them, alas! And this is what happens. When the Korong's time is come, as these creatures say, either on the summer or winter solstice, he is bound with native ropes, and carried up so pinioned to Tu-Kila-Kila's temple. In the time before this man was Tu-Kila-Kila, I remember—"
"Stop," Felix cried. "I don't understand. Has there then been more than one Tu-Kila-Kila?"
"Why, yes," the Frenchman answered. "Certainly, many. And there the mystery comes in again. We have always among us one Tu-Kila-Kila or another. He is a sort of pope, or grand lama, voyez-vous? No sooner is the last god dead than another god succeeds him and takes his name, or rather his title. This young man who now holds the place was known originally as Lavita, the son of Sami. But what is more curious still, the islanders always treat the new god as if he were precisely the self-same person as the old one. So far as I have been able to understand their theology, they believe in a sort of transmigration of souls. The soul of the Tu-Kila-Kila who is just dead passes into and animates the body of the Tu-Kila-Kila who succeeds to the office. Thus they speak as though Tu-Kila-Kila were a continuous existence; and the god of the moment, himself, will even often refer to events which occurred to him, as he says, a hundred years ago or more, but which he really knows, of course, only by the persistent tradition of the islanders. They are a very curious people, these Bouparese. But what would you have? Among savages, one expects things to be as among savages."
Felix drew a quiet sigh. It was certain that on the island of Boupari that expectation, at least, was never doomed to disappointment. "And when a Korong is taken to Tu-Kila-Kila's temple," he asked, continuing the subject of most immediate interest, "what happens next to him?"
"Monsieur," the Frenchman answered, "I hardly know whether I do right or not to say the truth to you. Each Korong is a god for one season only; when the year renews itself, as the savages believe, by a change of season, then a new Korong must be chosen by Heaven to fill the place of the old ones who are to be sacrificed. This they do in order that the seasons may be ever fresh and vigorous. Especially is that the case with the two meteorological gods, so to speak, the King of the Rain and the Queen of the Clouds. Those, I understand, are the posts in their pantheon which you and the lady who accompanies you occupy."
"You are right," Felix answered, with profoundly painful interest. "And what, then, becomes of the king and queen who are sacrificed?"
"I will tell you," M. Peyron answered, dropping his voice still lower into a sympathetic key. "But steel your mind for the worst beforehand. It is sufficiently terrible. On the day of your arrival, this, I learn from my Shadow, is just what happened. That night, Tu-Kila-Kila made his great feast, and offered up the two chief human sacrifices of the year, the free-will offering and the scapegoat of trespass. They keep then a festival, which answers to our own New-Year's day in Europe. Next morning, in accordance with custom, the King of the Rain and the Queen of the Clouds were to be publicly slain, in order that a new and more vigorous king and queen should be chosen in their place, who might make the crops grow better and the sky more clement. In the midst of this horrid ceremony, you and mademoiselle, by pure chance, arrived. You were immediately selected by Tu-Kila-Kila, for some reason of his own, which I do not sufficiently understand, but which is, nevertheless, obvious to all the initiated, as the next representatives of the rain-giving gods. You were presented to Heaven on their little platform raised about the ground, and Heaven accepted you. Then you were envisaged with the attributes of divinity; the care of the rain and the clouds was made over to you; and immediately after, as soon as you were gone, the old king and queen were laid on an altar near Tu-Kila-Kila's home, and slain with tomahawks. Their flesh was next hacked from their bodies with knives, cooked, and eaten; their bones were thrown into the sea, the mother of all waters, as the natives call it. And that is the fate, I fear the inevitable fate, that will befall you and mademoiselle at these wretches' hands about the commencement of a fresh season."
Felix knew the worst now, and bent his head in silence. His worst fears were confirmed; but, after all, even this knowledge was better than so much uncertainty.
And now that he knew when "his time was up," as the natives phrased it, he would know when to redeem his promise to Muriel.
A VERY FAINT CLUE.
"But you hinted at some hope, some chance of escape," Felix cried at last, looking up from the ground and mastering his emotion. "What now is that hope? Conceal nothing from me."
"Monsieur," the Frenchman answered, shrugging his shoulders with an expression of utter impotence, "I have as good reasons for wishing to find out all that as even you can have. Your secret is my secret; but with all my pains and astuteness I have been unable to discover it. The natives are reticent, very reticent indeed, about all these matters. They fear taboo; and they fear Tu-Kila-Kila. The women, to be sure, in a moment of expansion, might possibly tell one; but, then, the women, unfortunately, are not admitted to the mysteries. They know no more of all these things than we do. The most I have been able to gather for certain is this—that on the discovery of the secret depend Tu-Kila-Kila's life and power. Every Boupari man knows this Great Taboo; it is communicated to him in the assembly of adults when he gets tattooed and reaches manhood. But no Boupari man ever communicates it to strangers; and for that reason, perhaps, as I believe, Tu-Kila-Kila often chooses for Korong, as far as possible, those persons who are cast by chance upon the island. It has always been the custom, so far as I can make out, to treat castaways or prisoners taken in war as gods, and then at the end of their term to kill them ruthlessly. This plan is popular with the people at large, because it saves themselves from the dangerous honors of deification; but it also serves Tu-Kila-Kila's purpose, because it usually elevates to Heaven those innocent persons who are unacquainted with that fatal secret which is, as the natives say, Tu-Kila-Kila's death—his word of dismissal."
"Then if only we could find out this secret—" Felix cried.
His new friend interrupted him. "What hope is there of your finding it out, monsieur," he exclaimed, "you, who have only a few months to live—when I, who have spent nine long years of exile on the island, and seen two Tu-Kila-Kilas rise and fall, have been unable, with my utmost pains, to discover it? Tenez; you have no idea yet of the superstitions of these people, or the difficulties that lie in the way of fathoming them. Come this way to my aviary; I will show you something that will help you to realize the complexities of the situation."
He rose and led the way to another cleared space at the back of the hut, where several birds of gaudy plumage were fastened to perches on sticks by leathery lashes of dried shark's skin, tied just above their talons. "I am the King of the Birds, monsieur, you must remember," the Frenchman said, fondling one of his screaming proteges. "These are a few of my subjects. But I do not keep them for mere curiosity. Each of them is the Soul of the tribe to which it belongs. This, for example—my Cluseret—is the Soul of all the gray parrots; that that you see yonder—Badinguet, I call him—is the Soul of the hawks; this, my Mimi, is the Soul of the little yellow-crested kingfisher. My task as King of the Birds is to keep a representative of each of these always on hand; in which endeavor I am faithfully aided by the whole population of the island, who bring me eggs and nests and young birds in abundance. If the Soul of the little yellow kingfisher now were to die, without a successor being found ready at once to receive and embody it, then the whole race of little yellow kingfishers would vanish altogether; and if I myself, the King of the Birds, who am, as it were, the Soul and life of all of them, were to die without a successor being at hand to receive my spirit, then all the race of birds, with one accord, would become extinct forthwith and forever."
He moved among his pets easily, like a king among his subjects. Most of them seemed to know him and love his presence. Presently, he came to one very old parrot, quite different from any Felix had ever seen on any trees in the island; it was a parrot with a black crest and a red mark on its throat, half blind with age, and tottering on its pedestal. This solemn old bird sat apart from all the others, nodding its head oracularly in the sunlight, and blinking now and again with its white eyelids in a curious senile fashion.
The Frenchman turned to Felix with an air of profound mystery. "This bird," he said, solemnly stroking its head with his hand, while the parrot turned round to him and bit at his finger with half-doddering affection—"this bird is the oldest of all my birds—-is it not so, Methuselah?—and illustrates well in one of its aspects the superstition of these people. Yes, my friend, you are the last of a kind now otherwise extinct, are you not, mon vieux? No, no, there—gently! Once upon a time, the natives tell me, dozens of these parrots existed in the island; they flocked among the trees, and were held very sacred; but they were hard to catch and difficult to keep, and the Kings of the Birds, my predecessors, failed to secure an heir and coadjutor to this one. So as the Soul of the species, which you see here before you, grew old and feeble, the whole of the race to which it belonged grew old and feeble with it. One by one they withered away and died, till at last this solitary specimen alone remained to vouch for the former existence of the race in the island. Now, the islanders say, nothing but the Soul itself is left; and when the Soul dies, the red-throated parrots will be gone forever. One of my predecessors paid with his life in awful tortures for his remissness in not providing for the succession to the soulship. I tell you these things in order that you may see whether they cast any light for you upon your own position; and also because the oldest and wisest natives say that this parrot alone, among beasts or birds or uninitiated things, knows the secret on which depends the life of the Tu-Kila-Kila for the time being."
"Can the parrot speak?" Felix asked, with profound emotion.
"Monsieur, he can speak, and he speaks frequently. But not one word of all he says is comprehensible either to me or to any other living being. His tongue is that of a forgotten nation. The islanders understand him no more than I do. He has a very long sermon or poem, which he knows by heart, in some unknown language, and he repeats it often at full length from time to time, especially when he has eaten well and feels full and happy. The oldest natives tell a romantic legend about this strange recitation of the good Methuselah—I call him Methuselah because of his great age—but I do not really know whether their tale is true or purely fanciful. You never can trust these Polynesian traditions."
"What is the legend?" Felix asked, with intense interest. "In an island where we find ourselves so girt round by mystery within mystery, and taboo within taboo, as this, every key is worth trying. It is well for us at least to learn everything we can about the ideas of the natives. Who knows what clue may supply us at last with the missing link, which will enable us to break through this intolerable servitude?"
"Well, the story they tell us is this," the Frenchman replied, "though I have gathered it only a hint at a time, from very old men, who declared at the same moment that some religious fear—of which they have many—prevented them from telling me any further about it. It seems that a long time ago—how many years ago nobody knows, only that it was in the time of the thirty-ninth Tu-Kila-Kila, before the reign of Lavita, the son of Sami—a strange Korong was cast up upon this island by the waves of the sea, much as you and I have been in the present generation. By accident, says the story, or else, as others aver, through the indiscretion of a native woman who fell in love with him, and who worried the taboo out of her husband, the stranger became acquainted with the secret of Tu-Kila-Kila. As the natives themselves put it, he learned the Death of the High God, and where in the world his Soul was hidden. Thereupon, in some mysterious way or other, he became Tu-Kila-Kila himself, and ruled as High God for ten years or more here on this island. Now, up to that time, the legend goes on, none but the men of the island knew the secret; they learned it as soon as they were initiated in the great mysteries, which occur before a boy is given a spear and admitted to the rank of complete manhood. But sometimes a woman was told the secret wrongfully by her husband or her lover; and one such woman, apparently, told the strange Korong, and so enabled him to become Tu-Kila-Kila."
"But where does the parrot come in?" Felix asked, with still profounder excitement than ever. Something within him seemed to tell him instinctively he was now within touch of the special key that must sooner or later unlock the mystery.
"Well," the Frenchman went on, still stroking the parrot affectionately with his hand, and smoothing down the feathers on its ruffled back, "the strange Tu-Kila-Kila, who thus ruled in the island, though he learned to speak Polynesian well, had a language of his own, a language of the birds, which no man on earth could ever talk with him. So, to beguile his time and to have someone who could converse with him in his native dialect, he taught this parrot to speak his own tongue, and spent most of his days in talking with it and fondling it. At last, after he had instructed it by slow degrees how to repeat this long sermon or poem—which I have often heard it recite in a sing-song voice from beginning to end—his time came, as they say, and he had to give way to another Tu-Kila-Kila; for the Bouparese have a proverb like our own about the king, 'The High God is dead; may the High God live forever!' But before he gave up his Soul to his successor, and was eaten or buried, whichever is the custom, he handed over his pet to the King of the Birds, strictly charging all future bearers of that divine office to care for the parrot as they would care for a son or a daughter. And so the natives make much of the parrot to the present day, saying he is greater than any, save a Korong or a god, for he is the Soul of a dead race, summing it up in himself, and he knows the secret of the Death of Tu-Kila-Kila."
"But you can't tell me what language he speaks?" Felix asked with a despairing gesture. It was terrible to stand thus within measurable distance of the secret which might, perhaps, save Muriel's life, and yet be perpetually balked by wheel within wheel of more than Egyptian mystery.
"Who can say?" the Frenchman answered, shrugging his shoulders helplessly. "It isn't Polynesian; that I know well, for I speak Bouparese now like a native of Boupari; and it isn't the only other language spoken at the present day in the South Seas—the Melanesian of New Caledonia—for that I learned well from the Kanakas while I was serving my time as a convict among them. All we can say for certain is that it may, perhaps, be some very ancient tongue. For parrots, we know, are immensely long-lived. Some of them, it is said, exceed their century. Is it not so, eh, my friend Methuselah?"
FACING THE WORST.
Muriel, meanwhile, sat alone in her hut, frightened at Felix's unexpected disappearance so early in the morning, and anxiously awaiting her lover's return, for she made no pretences now to herself that she did not really love Felix. Though the two might never return to Europe to be husband and wife, she did not doubt that before the eye of Heaven they were already betrothed to one another as truly as though they had plighted their troth in solemn fashion. Felix had risked his life for her, and had brought all this misery upon himself in the attempt to save her. Felix was now all the world that was left her. With Felix, she was happy, even on this horrible island; without him, she was miserable and terrified, no matter what happened.
"Mali," she cried to her faithful attendant, as soon as she found Felix was missing from his tent, "what's become of Mr. Thurstan? Where can he be gone, I wonder, this morning?"
"You no fear, Missy Queenie," Mali answered, with the childish confidence of the native Polynesian. "Mistah Thurstan, him gone to see man-a-oui-oui, the King of the Birds. Month of Birds finish last night; man-a-oui-oui no taboo any longer. King of the Birds keep very old parrot, Boupari folk tell me; and old parrot very wise, know how to make Tu-Kila-Kila. Mistah Thurstan, him gone to find man-a-oui-oui. Parrot tell him plenty wise thing. Parrot wiser than Boupari people; know very good medicine; wise like Queensland lady and gentleman." And Mali set herself vigorously to work to wash the wooden platter on which she served up her mistress's yam for breakfast.
It was curious to Muriel to see how readily Mali had slipped from savagery to civilization in Queensland, and how easily she had slipped back again from civilization to savagery in Boupari. In waiting on her mistress she was just the ordinary trained native Australian servant; in every other respect she was the simple unadulterated heathen Polynesian. She recognized in Muriel a white lady of the English sort, and treated her within the hut as white ladies were invariably treated in Queensland; but she considered that at Boupari one must do as Boupari does, and it never for a moment occurred to her simple mind to doubt the omnipotence of Tu-Kila-Kila in his island realm any more than she had doubted the omnipotence of the white man and his local religion in their proper place (as she thought it) in Queensland.
An hour or two passed before Felix returned. At last he arrived, very white and pale, and Muriel saw at once by the mere look on his face that he had learned some terrible news at the Frenchman's.
"Well, you found him?" she cried, taking his hand in hers, but hardly daring to ask the fatal question at once.
And Felix, sitting down, as pale as a ghost, answered faintly, "Yes, Muriel, I found him!"
"And he told you everything?"
"Everything he knew, my poor child. Oh, Muriel, Muriel, don't ask me what it is. It's too terrible to tell you."
Muriel clasped her white hands together, held bloodless downward, and looked at him fixedly. "Mali, you can go," she said. And the Shadow, rising up with childish confidence, glided from the hut, and left them, for the first time since their arrival on the central island, alone together.
Muriel looked at him once more with the same deadly fixed look. "With you, Felix," she said, slowly, "I can bear or dare anything. I feel as if the bitterness of death were past long ago. I know it must come. I only want to be quite sure when.... And besides, you must remember, I have your promise."
Felix clasped his own hands despondently in return, and gazed across at her from his seat a few feet off in unspeakable misery.
"Muriel," he cried, "I couldn't. I haven't the heart. I daren't."
Muriel rose and laid her hand solemnly on his arm. "You will!" she answered, boldly. "You can! You must! I know I can trust your promise for that. This moment, if you like. I would not shrink. But you will never let me fall alive into the hands of those wretches. Felix, from your hand I could stand anything. I'm not afraid to die. I love you too dearly."
Felix held her white little wrist in his grasp and sobbed like a child. Her very bravery and confidence seemed to unman him, utterly.
She looked at him once more. "When?" she asked, quietly, but with lips as pale as death.
"In about four months from now," Felix answered, endeavoring to be calm.
"And they will kill us both?"
"Yes, both. I think so."
Muriel drew a deep sigh.
"Will you know the day beforehand?" she asked.
"Yes. The Frenchman told me it. He has known others killed in the self-same fashion."
"Then, Felix—-the night before it comes, you will promise me, will you?"
"Muriel, Muriel, I could never dare to kill you."
She laid her hand soothingly on his. She stroked him gently. "You are a man," she said, looking up into his eyes with confidence. "I trust you. I believe in you. I know you will never let these savages hurt me.... Felix, in spite of everything, I've been happier since we came to this island together than ever I have been in my life before. I've had my wish. I didn't want to miss in life the one thing that life has best worth giving. I haven't missed it now. I know I haven't; for I love you, and you love me. After that, I can die, and die gladly. If I die with you, that's all I ask. These seven or eight terrible weeks have made me feel somehow unnaturally calm. When I came here first I lived all the time in an agony of terror. I've got over the agony of terror now. I'm quite resigned and happy. All I ask is to be saved—by you—from the cruel hands of these hateful cannibals."
Felix raised her white hand just once to his lips. It was the first time he had ever ventured to kiss her. He kissed it fervently. She let it drop as if dead by her side.
"Now tell me all that happened," she said. "I'm strong enough to bear it. I feel such a woman now—so wise and calm. These few weeks have made me grow from a girl into a woman all at once. There's nothing I daren't hear, if you'll tell me it, Felix."
Felix took up her hand again and held it in his, as he narrated the whole story of his visit to the Frenchman. When Muriel had heard it, she said once more, slowly, "I don't think there's any hope in all these wild plans of playing off superstition against superstition. To my mind there are only two chances left for us now. One is to concoct with the Frenchman some means of getting away by canoe from the island—I'd rather trust the sea than the tender mercy of these dreadful people; the other is to keep a closer lookout than ever for the merest chance of a passing steamer."
Felix drew a deep sigh. "I'm afraid neither's much use," he said. "If we tried to get away, dogged as we are, day and night, by our Shadows, the natives would follow us with their war-canoes in battle array and hack us to pieces; for Peyron says that, regarding us as gods, they think the rain would vanish from their island forever if once they allowed us to get away alive and carry the luck with us. And as to the steamers, we haven't seen a trace of one since we left the Australasian. Probably it was only by the purest accident that even she ever came so close in to Boupari."
"At any rate," Muriel cried, still clasping his hand tight, and letting the tears now trickle slowly down her pale white cheeks, "we can talk it all over some day with M. Peyron."
"We can talk it over to-day," Felix answered, "if it comes to that; for Peyron means to step round, he says, a little later in the afternoon, to pay his respects to the first white lady he has ever seen since he left New Caledonia."
TU-KILA-KILA PLAYS A CARD.
Before the Frenchman could carry out his plan, however, he was himself the recipient of the high honor of a visit from his superior god and chief, Tu-Kila-Kila.
Every day and all day long, save on a few rare occasions when special duties absolved him, the custom and religion of the islanders prescribed that their supreme incarnate deity should keep watch and ward without cessation over the great spreading banyan-tree that overshadowed with its dark boughs his temple-palace. High god as he was held to be, and all-powerful within the limits of his own strict taboos, Tu-Kila-Kila was yet as rigidly bound within those iron laws of custom and religious usage as the meanest and poorest of his subject worshippers. From sunrise to sunset, and far on into the night, the Pillar of Heaven was compelled to prowl up and down, with spear in hand and tomahawk at side, as Felix had so often seen him, before the sacred trunk, of which he appeared to be in some mysterious way the appointed guardian. His very power, it seemed, was intimately bound up with the performance of that ceaseless and irksome duty; he was a god in whose hands the lives of his people were but as dust in the balance; but he remained so only on the onerous condition of pacing to and fro, like a sentry, forever before the still more holy and venerable object he was chosen to protect from attack or injury. Had he failed in his task, had he slumbered at his post, all god though he might be, his people themselves would have risen in a body and torn him limb from limb before their ancestral fetich as a sacrilegious pretender.
At certain times and seasons, however, as for example at all high feasts and festivals, Tu-Kila-Kila had respite for a while from this constant treadmill of mechanical divinity. Whenever the moon was at the half-quarter, or the planets were in lucky conjunctions, or a red glow lit up the sky by night, or the sacred sacrificial fires of human flesh were lighted, then Tu-Kila-Kila could lay aside his tomahawk and spear, and become for a while as the islanders, his fellows, were. At other times, too, when he went out in state to visit the lesser deities of his court, the King of Fire and the King of Water made a solemn taboo before He left his home, which protected the sacred tree from aggression during its guardian's absence. Then Tu-Kila-Kila, shaded by his divine umbrella, and preceded by the noise of the holy tom-toms, could go like a monarch over all parts of his realm, giving such orders as he pleased (within the limits of custom) to his inferior officers. It was in this way that he now paid his visit to M. Jules Peyron, King of the Birds. And he did so for what to him were amply sufficient reasons.
It had not escaped Tu-Kila-Kila's keen eye, as he paced among the skeletons in his yard that morning, that Felix Thurstan, the King of the Rain, had taken his way openly toward the Frenchman's quarters. He felt pretty sure, therefore, that Felix had by this time learned another white man was living on the island; and he thought it an ominous fact that the new-comer should make his way toward his fellow-European's hut on the very first morning when the law of taboo rendered such a visit possible. The savage is always by nature suspicious; and Tu-Kila-Kila had grounds enough of his own for suspicion in this particular instance. The two white men were surely brewing mischief together for the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Illuminer of the Glowing Light of the Sun; he must make haste and see what plan they were concocting against the sacred tree and the person of its representative, the King of Plants and of the Host of Heaven.
But it isn't so easy to make haste when all your movements are impeded and hampered by endless taboos and a minutely annoying ritual. Before Tu-Kila-Kila could get himself under way, sacred umbrella, tom-toms, and all, it was necessary for the King of Fire and the King of Water to make taboo on an elaborate scale with their respective elements; and so by the time the high god had reached M. Jules Peyron's garden, Felix Thurstan had already some time since returned to Muriel's hut and his own quarters.
Tu-Kila-Kila approached the King of the Birds, amid loud clapping of hands, with considerable haughtiness. To say the truth, there was no love lost between the cannibal god and his European subordinate. The savage, puffed up as he was in his own conceit, had nevertheless always an uncomfortable sense that, in his heart of hearts, the impassive Frenchman had but a low opinion of him. So he invariably tried to make up by the solemnity of his manner and the loudness of his assertions for any trifling scepticism that might possibly exist in the mind of his follower.
On this particular occasion, as he reached the Frenchman's plot, Tu-Kila-Kila stepped forward across the white taboo-line with a suspicious and peering eye. "The King of the Rain has been here," he said, in a pompous tone, as the Frenchman rose and saluted him ceremoniously. "Tu-Kila-Kila's eyes are sharp. They never sleep. The sun is his sight. He beholds all things. You cannot hide aught in heaven or earth from the knowledge of him that dwells in heaven. I look down upon land and sea, and spy out all that takes place or is planned in them. I am very holy and very cruel. I see all earth and I drink the blood of all men. The King of the Rain has come this morning to visit the King of the Birds. Where is he now? What has your divinity done with him?"
He spoke from under the sheltering cover of his veiled umbrella. The Frenchman looked back at him with as little love as Tu-Kila-Kila himself would have displayed had his face been visible. "Yes, you are a very great god," he answered, in the conventional tone of Polynesian adulation, with just a faint under-current of irony running through his accent as he spoke. "You say the truth. You do, indeed, know all things. What need for me, then, to tell you, whose eye is the sun, that my brother, the King of the Rain, has been here and gone again? You know it yourself. Your eye has looked upon it. My brother was indeed with me. He consulted me as to the showers I should need from his clouds for the birds, my subjects."
"And where is he gone now?" Tu-Kila-Kila asked, without attempting to conceal the displeasure in his tone, for he more than half suspected the Frenchman of a sacrilegious and monstrous design of chaffing him.
The King of the Birds bowed low once more. "Tu-Kila-Kila's glance is keener than my hawk's," he answered, with the accustomed Polynesian imagery. "He sees over the land with a glance, like my parrots, and over the sea with sharp sight, like my albatrosses. He knows where my brother, the King of the Rain, has gone. For me, who am the least among all the gods, I sit here on my perch and blink like a crow. I do not know these things. They are too high and too deep for me."
Tu-Kila-Kila did not like the turn the conversation was taking. Before his own attendants such hints, indeed, were almost dangerous. Once let the savage begin to doubt, and the Moral Order goes with a crash immediately. Besides, he must know what these white men had been talking about. "Fire and Water," he said in a loud voice, turning round to his two chief satellites, "go far down the path, and beat the tom-toms. Fence off with flood and flame the airy height where the King of the Birds lives; fence it off from all profane intrusion. I wish to confer in secret with this god, my brother. When we gods talk together, it is not well that others should hear our converse. Make a great Taboo. I, Tu-Kila-Kila, myself have said it."
Fire and Water, bowing low, backed down the path, beating tom-toms as they went, and left the savage and the Frenchman alone together.
As soon as they were gone, Tu-Kila-Kila laid aside his umbrella with a positive sigh of relief. Now his fellow-countrymen were well out of the way, his manner altered in a trice, as if by magic. Barbarian as he was, he was quite astute enough to guess that Europeans cared nothing in their hearts for all his mumbo-jumbo. He believed in it himself, but they did not, and their very unbelief made him respect and fear them.
"Now that we two are alone," he said, glancing carelessly around him, "we two who are gods, and know the world well—we two who see everything in heaven or earth—there is no need for concealment—we may talk as plainly as we will with one another. Come, tell me the truth! The new white man has seen you?"
"He has seen me, yes, certainly," the Frenchman admitted, taking a keen look deep into the savage's cunning eyes.
"Does he speak your language—the language of birds?" Tu-Kila-Kila asked once more, with insinuating cunning. "I have heard that the sailing gods are of many languages. Are you and he of one speech or two? Aliens, or countrymen?"
"He speaks my language as he speaks Polynesian," the Frenchman replied, keeping his eye firmly fixed on his doubtful guest, "but it is not his own. He has a tongue apart—the tongue of an island not far from my country, which we call England."
Tu-Kila-Kila drew nearer, and dropped his voice to a confidential whisper. "Has he seen the Soul of all dead parrots?" he asked, with keen interest in his voice. "The parrot that knows Tu-Kila-Kila's secret? That one over there—the old, the very sacred one?"
M. Peyron gazed round his aviary carelessly. "Oh, that one," he answered, with a casual glance at Methuselah, as though one parrot or another were much the same to him. "Yes, I think he saw it. I pointed it out to him, in fact, as the oldest and strangest of all my subjects."
Tu-Kila-Kila's countenance fell. "Did he hear it speak?" he asked, in evident alarm. "Did it tell him the story of Tu-Kila-Kila's secret?"
"No, it didn't speak," the Frenchman answered. "It seldom does now. It is very old. And if it did, I don't suppose the King of the Rain would have understood one word of it. Look here, great god, allay your fears. You're a terrible coward. I expect the real fact about the parrot is this: it is the last of its own race; it speaks the language of some tribe of men who once inhabited these islands, but are now extinct. No human being at present alive, most probably, knows one word of that forgotten language."
"You think not?" Tu-Kila-Kila asked, a little relieved.
"I am the King of the Birds, and I know the voices of my subjects by heart; I assure you it is as I say," M. Peyron answered, drawing himself up solemnly.
Tu-Kila-Kila looked askance, with something very closely approaching a wink in his left eye. "We two are both gods," he said, with a tinge of irony in his tone. "We know what that means.... I do not feel so certain."
He stood close by the parrot with itching fingers. "It is very, very old," he went on to himself, musingly. "It can't live long. And then—none but Boupari men will know the secret."
As he spoke he darted a strange glance of hatred toward the unconscious bird, the innocent repository, as he firmly believed, of the secret that doomed him. The Frenchman had turned his back for a moment now, to fetch out a stool. Tu-Kila-Kila, casting a quick, suspicious eye to the right and left, took a step nearer. The parrot sat mumbling on its perch, inarticulately, putting its head on one side, and blinking its half-blinded eyes in the bright tropical sunshine. Tu-Kila-Kila paused irresolute before its face for a second. If he only dared—one wring of the neck—one pinch of his finger and thumb almost!—and all would be over. But he dared not! he dared not! Your savage is overawed by the blind terrors of taboo. His predecessor, some elder Tu-Kila-Kila of forgotten days, had laid a great charm upon that parrot's life. Whoever hurt it was to die an awful death of unspeakable torment. The King of the Birds had special charge to guard it. If even the Cannibal God himself wrought it harm, who could tell what judgment might fall upon him forthwith, what terrible vengeance the dead Tu-Kila-Kila might wreak upon him in his ghostly anger? And that dead Tu-Kila-Kila was his own Soul! His own Soul might flare up within him in some mystic way and burn him to ashes.
And yet—suppose this hateful new-comer, the King of the Rain, whom he had himself made Korong on purpose to get rid of him the more easily, and so had elevated into his own worst potential enemy—suppose this new-comer, the King of the Rain, were by chance to speak that other dialect of the bird-language, which the King of the Birds himself knew not, but which the parrot had learned from his old master, the ancient Tu-Kila-Kila of other days, and in which the bird still recited the secret of the sacred tree and the Death of the Great God—ah, then he might still have to fight hard for his divinity. He gazed angrily at the bird. Methuselah blinked, and put his head on one side, and looked craftily askance at him. Tu-Kila-Kila hated it, that insolent creature. Was he not a god, and should he be thus bearded in his own island by a mere Soul of dead birds, a poor, wretched parrot? But the curse! What might not that portend? Ah, well, he would risk it. Glancing around him once more to the right and left, to make sure that nobody was looking, the cunning savage put forth his hand stealthily, and tried with a friendly caress to seize the parrot.
In a moment, before he had time to know what was happening, Methuselah—sleepy old dotard as he seemed—had woke up at once to a sense of danger. Turning suddenly round upon the sleek, caressing hand, he darted his beak with a vicious peck at his assailant, and bit the divine finger of the Pillar of Heaven as carelessly as he would have bitten any child on Boupari. Tu-Kila-Kila, thunder-struck, drew back his arm with a start of surprise and a loud cry of pain. The bird had wounded him. He shook his hand and stamped. Blood was dropping on the ground from the man-god's finger. He hardly knew what strange evil this omen of harm might portend for the world. The Soul of all dead parrots had carried out the curse, and had drawn red drops from the sacred veins of Tu-Kila-Kila.
One must be a savage one's self, and superstitious at that, fully to understand the awful significance of this deadly occurrence. To draw blood from a god, and, above all, to let that blood fall upon the dust of the ground, is the very worst luck—too awful for the human mind to contemplate.
At the same moment, the parrot, awakened by the unexpected attack, threw back its head on its perch, and, laughing loud and long to itself in its own harsh way, began to pour forth a whole volley of oaths in a guttural language, of which neither Tu-Kila-Kila nor the Frenchman understood one syllable. And at the same moment, too, M. Peyron himself, recalled from the door of his hut by Tu-Kila-Kila's sharp cry of pain and by his liege subject's voluble flow of loud speech and laughter, ran up all agog to know what was the matter.
Tu-Kila-Kila, with an effort, tried to hide in his robe his wounded finger. But the Frenchman caught at the meaning of the whole scene at once, and interposed himself hastily between the parrot and its assailant. "He! my Methuselah," he cried, in French, stroking the exultant bird with his hand, and smoothing its ruffled feathers, "did he try to choke you, then? Did he try to get over you? That was a brave bird! You did well, mon ami, to bite him!... No, no, Life of the World, and Measurer of the Sun's Course," he went on, in Polynesian, "you shall not go near him. Keep your distance, I beg of you. You may be a high god—though you were a scurvy wretch enough, don't you recollect, when you were only Lavita, the son of Sami—but I know your tricks. Hands off from my birds, say I. A curse is on the head of the Soul of dead parrots. You tried to hurt him, and see how the curse has worked itself out! The blood of the great god, the Pillar of Heaven, has stained the gray dust of the island of Boupari."
Tu-Kila-Kila stood sucking his finger, and looking the very picture of the most savage sheepishness.
Tu-Kila-Kila went home that day in a very bad humor. The portent of the bitten finger had seriously disturbed him. For, strange as it sounds to us, he really believed himself in his own divinity; and the bare thought that the holy soil of earth should be dabbled and wet with the blood of a god gave him no little uneasiness in his own mind on his way homeward. Besides, what would his people think of it if they found it out? At all hazards almost, he must strive to conceal this episode of the bite from the men of Boupari. A god who gets wounded, and, worse still, gets wounded in the very act of trying to break a great taboo laid on by himself in a previous incarnation—such a god undoubtedly lays himself open to the gravest misapprehensions on the part of his worshippers. Indeed, it was not even certain whether his people, if they knew, would any longer regard him as a god at all. The devotion of savages is profound, but it is far from personal. When deities pass so readily from one body to another, you must always keep a sharp lookout lest the great spirit should at any minute have deserted his earthly tabernacle, and have taken up his abode in a fresh representative. Honor the gods by all means; but make sure at the same time what particular house they are just then inhabiting.
It was the hour of siesta in Tu-Kila-Kila's tent. For a short space in the middle of the day, during the heat of the sun, while Fire and Water, with their embers and their calabash, sat on guard in a porch by the bamboo gate, Tu-Kila-Kila, Pillar of Heaven and Threshold of Earth, had respite for a while from his daily task of guarding the sacred banyan, and could take his ease after his meal in his own quarters. While that precious hour of taboo lasted, no wandering dragon or spirit of the air could hurt the holy tree, and no human assailant dare touch or approach it. Even the disease-making gods, who walk in the pestilence, could not blight or wither it. At all other times Tu-Kila-Kila mounted guard over his tree with a jealousy that fairly astonished Felix Thurstan's soul; for Felix Thurstan only dimly understood as yet how implicitly Tu-Kila-Kila's own life and office were bound up with the inviolability of the banyan he protected.
Within the hut, during that playtime of siesta, while the lizards (who are also gods) ran up and down the wall, and puffed their orange throats, Tu-Kila-Kila lounged at his ease that afternoon, with one of his many wives—a tall and beautiful Polynesian woman, lithe and supple, as is the wont of her race, and as exquisitely formed in every limb and feature as a sculptured Greek goddess. A graceful wreath of crimson hibiscus adorned her shapely head, round which her long and glossy black hair was coiled in great rings with artistic profusion. A festoon of blue flowers and dark-red dracaena leaves hung like a chaplet over her olive-brown neck and swelling bust. One breadth of native cloth did duty for an apron or girdle round her waist and hips. All else was naked. Her plump brown arms were set off by the green and crimson of the flowers that decked her. Tu-Kila-Kila glanced at his slave with approving eyes. He always liked Ula; she pleased him the best of all his women. And she knew his ways, too: she never contradicted him.
Among savages, guile is woman's best protection. The wife who knows when to give way with hypocritical obedience, and when to coax or wheedle her yielding lord, runs the best chance in the end for her life. Her model is not the oak, but the willow. She must be able to watch for the rising signs of ill-humor in her master's mind, and guard against them carefully. If she is wise, she keeps out of her husband's way when his anger is aroused, but soothes and flatters him to the top of his bent when his temper is just slightly or momentarily ruffled.
"The Lord of Heaven and Earth is ill at ease," Ula murmured, insinuatingly, as Tu-Kila-Kila winced once with the pain of his swollen finger. "What has happened today to the Increaser of Bread-Fruit? My lord is sad. His eye is downcast. Who has crossed my master's will? Who has dared to anger him?"
Tu-Kila-Kila kept the wounded hand wrapped up in a soft leaf, like a woolly mullein. All the way home he had been obliged to conceal it, and disguise the pain he felt, lest Fire and Water should discover his secret. For he dared not let his people know that the Soul of all dead parrots had bitten his finger, and drawn blood from the sacred veins of the man-god. But he almost hesitated now whether or not he should confide in Ula. A god may surely trust his own wedded wives. And yet—such need to be careful—women are so treacherous! He suspected Ula sometimes of being a great deal too fond of that young man Toko, who used to be one of the temple attendants, and whom he had given as Shadow accordingly to the King of the Rain, so as to get rid of him altogether from among the crowd of his followers. So he kept his own counsel for the moment, and disguised his misfortune. "I have been to see the King of the Birds this morning," he said, in a grumbling voice; "and I do not like him. That God is too insolent. For my part I hate these strangers, one and all. They have no respect for Tu-Kila-Kila like the men of Boupari. They are as bad as atheists. They fear not the gods, and the customs of our fathers are not in them."
Ula crept nearer, with one lithe round arm laid caressingly close to her master's neck. "Then why do you make them Korong?" she asked, with feminine curiosity, like some wife who seeks to worm out of her husband the secret of freemasonry. "Why do you not cook them and eat them at once, as soon as they arrive? They are very good food—so white and fine. That last new-comer, now—the Queen of the Clouds—why not eat her? She is plump and tender."
"I like her," Tu-Kila-Kila responded, in a gloating tone. "I like her every way. I would have brought her here to my temple and admitted her at once to be one of Tu-Kila-Kila's wives—only that Fire and Water would not have permitted me. They have too many taboos, those awkward gods. I do not love them. But I make my strangers Korong for a very wise reason. You women are fools; you understand nothing; you do not know the mysteries. These things are a great deal too high and too deep for you. You could not comprehend them. But men know well why. They are wise; they have been initiated. Much more, then, do I, who am the very high god—who eat human flesh and drink blood like water—who cause the sun to shine and the fruits to grow—without whom the day in heaven would fade and die out, and the foundations of the earth would be shaken like a plantain leaf."
Ula laid her soft brown hand soothingly on the great god's arm just above the elbow. "Tell me," she said, leaning forward toward him, and looking deep into his eyes with those great speaking gray orbs of hers; "tell me, O Sustainer of the Equipoise of Heaven; I know you are great; I know you are mighty; I know you are holy and wise and cruel; but why must you let these sailing gods who come from unknown lands beyond the place where the sun rises or sets—why must you let them so trouble and annoy you? Why do you not at once eat them up and be done with them? Is not their flesh sweet? Is not their blood red? Are they not a dainty well fit for the banquet of Tu-Kila-Kila?"
The savage looked at her for a moment and hesitated. A very beautiful woman this Ula, certainly. Not one of all his wives had larger brown limbs, or whiter teeth, or a deeper respect for his divine nature. He had almost a mind—it was only Ula? Why not break the silence enjoined upon gods toward women, and explain this matter to her? Not the great secret itself, of course—the secret on which hung the Death and Transmigration of Tu-Kila-Kila—oh, no; not that one. The savage was far too cunning in his generation to intrust that final terrible Taboo to the ears of a woman. But the reason why he made all strangers Korong. A woman might surely be trusted with that—especially Ula. She was so very handsome. And she was always so respectful to him.
"Well, the fact of it is," he answered, laying his hand on her neck, that plump brown neck of hers, under the garland of dracaena leaves, and stroking it voluptuously, "the sailing gods who happen upon this island from time to time are made Korong—but hush! it is taboo." He gazed around the hut suspiciously. "Are all the others away?" he asked, in a frightened tone. "Fire and Water would denounce me to all my people if once they found I had told a taboo to a woman. And as for you, they would take you, because you knew it, and would pull your flesh from your bones with hot stone pincers!"
Ula rose and looked about her at the door of the tent. She nodded thrice; then she glided back, serpentine, and threw herself gracefully, in a statuesque pose, on the native mat beside him. "Here, drink some more kava," she cried, holding a bowl to his lips, and wheedling him with her eyes. "Kava is good; it is fit for gods. It makes them royally drunk, as becomes great deities. The spirits of our ancestors dwell in the bowl; when you drink of the kava they mount by degrees into your heart and head. They inspire brave words. They give you thoughts of heaven. Drink, my master, drink. The Ruler of the Sun in Heaven is thirsty."
She lay propped on one elbow, with her face close to his; and offered him, with one brown, irresistible hand, the intoxicating liquor. Tu-Kila-Kila took the bowl, and drank a second time, for he had drunk of it once with his dinner already. It was seldom he allowed himself the luxury of a second draught of that very stupefying native intoxicant, for he knew too well the danger of insecurely guarding his sacred tree; but on this particular occasion, as on so many others in the collective life of humanity, "the woman tempted him," and he acted as she told him. He drank it off deep. "Ha, ha! that is good!" he cried, smacking his lips. "That is a drink fit for a god. No woman can make kava like you, Ula." He toyed with her arms and neck lazily once more. "You are the queen of my wives," he went on, in a dreamy voice. "I like you so well, that, plump as you are, I really believe, Ula, I could never make up my mind to eat you."
"My lord is very gracious," Ula made answer, in a soft, low tone, pretending to caress him. And for some minutes more she continued to make much of him in the fulsome strain of Polynesian flattery.
At last the kava had clearly got into Tu-Kila-Kila's head. Then Ula bent forward once more and again attacked him. "Now I know you will tell me," she said, coaxingly, "why you make them Korong. As long as I live, I will never speak or hint of it to anybody anywhere. And if I do—why, the remedy is near. I am your meat—take me and eat me."
Even cannibals are human; and at the touch of her soft hand, Tu-Kila-Kila gave way slowly. "I made them Korong," he answered, in rather thick accents, "because it is less dangerous for me to make them so than to choose for the post from among our own islanders. Sooner or later, my day must come; but I can put it off best by making my enemies out of strangers who arrive upon our island, and not out of those of my own household. All Boupari men who have been initiated know the terrible secret—they know where lies the Death of Tu-Kila-Kila. The strangers who come to us from the sun or the sea do not know it; and therefore my life is safest with them. So I make them Korong whenever I can, to prolong my own days, and to guard my secret."