"And the Death of Tu-Kila-Kila?" the woman whispered, very low, still soothing his arm with her hand and patting his cheek softly from time to time with a gentle, caressing motion. "Tell me where does that live? Who holds it in charge? Where is Tu-Kila-Kila's great spirit laid by in safety? I know it is in the tree; but where and in what part of it?"
Tu-Kila-Kila drew back with a little cry of surprise. "You know it is in the tree!" he cried. "You know my soul is kept there! Why, Ula, who told you that? and you a woman! Bad medicine indeed! Some man has been blabbing what he learned in the mysteries. If this should reach the ears of the King of the Rain—" he paused mysteriously.
"What? What?" Ula cried, seizing his hand in hers, and pressing it hard to her bosom in her anxiety and eagerness. "Tell me the secret! Tell me!"
With a sudden sharp howl of darting pain, Tu-Kila-Kila withdrew his hand. She had squeezed the finger the parrot had bitten, and blood began once more to flow from it freely.
A wild impulse of revenge came over the savage. He caught her by the neck with his other hand, pressed her throat hard, till she was black in the face, kicked her several times with ferocious rage, and then flung her away from him to the other side of the hut with a fierce and untranslatable native imprecation.
Ula, shaken and hurt, darted away toward the door, with a face of abject terror. For every reason on earth she was intensely alarmed. Were it merely as a matter of purely earthly fear, she had ground enough for fright in having so roused the hasty anger of that powerful and implacable creature. He would kill her and eat her with far less compunction than an English farmer would kill and eat one of his own barnyard chickens. But besides that, it terrified her not a little in more mysterious ways to see the blood of a god falling upon the earth so freely. She knew not what awful results to herself and her race might follow from so terrible a desecration.
But, to her utter astonishment, the great god himself, mad with rage as he was, seemed none the less almost as profoundly frightened and surprised as she herself was. "What did you do that for?" he cried, now sufficiently recovered for thought and speech, wringing his hand with pain, and then popping his finger hastily into his mouth to ease it. "You are a clumsy thing. And you want to destroy me, too, with your foolish clumsiness."
He looked at her and scowled. He was very angry. But the savage woman is nothing if not quick-witted and politic. In a flash of intuition, Ula saw at once he was more frightened than hurt; he was afraid of the effect of this strange revelation upon his own reputation for supreme godship. With every mark and gesture of deprecatory servility the woman sidled back to his side like a whipped dog. For a second she looked down on the floor at the drops of blood; then, without one word of warning or one instant's hesitation, she bit her own finger hard till blood flowed from it freely. "I will show this to Fire and Water," she said, holding it up before his eyes all red and bleeding. "I will say you were angry with me and bit me for a punishment, as you often do. They will never find out it was the blood of a god. Have no fear for their eyes. Let me look at your finger."
Tu-Kila-Kila, half appeased by her clever quickness, held his hand out sulkily, like a disobedient child. Ula examined it close. "A bite," she said, shortly. "A bite from a bird! a peck from a parrot."
Tu-Kila-Kila jerked out a surly assent. "Yes, the Soul of all dead parrots," he answered, with an angry glare. "It bit me this morning at the King of the Birds'. A vicious brute. But no one else saw it."
Ula put the finger up to her own mouth, and sucked the wound gently. Her medicine stanched it. Then she took a thin leaf of the paper mulberry, soft, cool, and soothing, and bound it round the place with a strip of the lace-like inner bark, as deftly as any hospital nurse in London would have done it. These savage women are capital hands in sickness. Tu-Kila-Kila sat and sulked meanwhile, like a disappointed child. When Ula had finished, she nodded her head and glided softly away. She knew her chance of learning the secret was gone for the moment, and she had too much of the guile of the savage woman to spoil her chances by loitering about unnecessarily while her lord was in his present ungracious humor.
As she stole from the hut, Tu-Kila-Kila, looking ruefully at his wounded hand, and then at that light and supple retreating figure, muttered sulkily to himself, with a very bad grace, "the woman knows too much. She nearly wormed my secret out of me. She knows that Tu-Kila-Kila's life and soul are bound up in the tree. She knows that I bled, and that the parrot bit me. If she blabs, as women will do, mischief may come of it. I am a great god, a very great god—keen, bloodthirsty, cruel. And I like that woman. But it would be wiser and safer, perhaps, after all, to forego my affection and to make a great feast of her."
And Ula, looking back with a smile and a nod, and holding up her own bitten and bleeding hand with a farewell shake, as if to remind her divine husband of her promise to show it to Fire and Water, murmured low to herself as she went, "He is a very great god; a very great god, no doubt; but I hate him, I hate him! He would eat me to-morrow if I didn't coax him and wheedle him and keep him in a good temper. You want to be sharp, indeed, to be the wife of a god. I got off to-day with the skin of my teeth. He might have turned and killed me. If only I could find out the Great Taboo, I would tell it to the stranger, the King of the Rain; and then, perhaps, Tu-Kila-Kila would die. And the stranger would become Tu-Kila-Kila in turn, and I would be one of his wives; and Toko, who is his Shadow, would return again to the service of Tu-Kila-Kila's temple."
But Fire, as she passed, was saying to Water, "We are getting tired in Boupari of Lavita, the son of Sami. If the luck of the island is not to change, it is high time, I think, we should have a new Tu-Kila-Kila."
COUNCIL OF WAR.
That same afternoon Muriel had a visitor. M. Jules Peyron, formerly of the College de France, no longer a mere Polynesian god, but a French gentleman of the Boulevards in voice and manner, came to pay his respects, as in duty bound, to Mademoiselle Ellis. M. Peyron had performed his toilet under trying circumstances, to the best of his ability. The remnants of his European clothes, much patched and overhung with squares of native tappa cloth, were hidden as much as possible by a wide feather cloak, very savage in effect, but more seemly, at any rate, than the tattered garments in which Felix had first found him in his own garden parterre. M. Peyron, however, was fully aware of the defects of his costume, and profoundly apologetic. "It is with ten thousand regrets, mademoiselle," he said, many times over, bowing low and simpering, "that I venture to appear in a lady's salon—for, after all, wherever a European lady goes, there her salon follows her—in such a tenue as that in which I am now compelled to present myself. Mais que voulez-vous? Nous ne sommes pas a Paris!" For to M. Peyron, as innocent in his way as Mali herself, the whole world divided itself into Paris and the Provinces.
Nevertheless, it was touching to both the new-comers to see the Frenchman's delight at meeting once more with civilized beings. "Figure to yourself, mademoiselle," he said, with true French effusion—"figure to yourself the joy and surprise with which I, this morning, receive monsieur, your friend, at my humble cottage! For the first time after nine years on this hateful island, I see again a European face; I hear again the sound, the beautiful sound of that charming French language. My emotion, believe me, was too profound for words. When monsieur was gone, I retired to my hut, I sat down on the floor, I gave myself over to tears, tears of joy and gratitude, to think I should once more catch a glimpse of civilization! This afternoon, I ask myself, can I venture to go out and pay my respects, thus attired, in these rags, to a European lady? For a long time I doubt, I wonder, I hesitate. In my quality of Frenchman, I would have wished to call in civilized costume upon a civilized household. But what would you have? Necessity knows no law. I am compelled to envelope myself in my savage robe of office as a Polynesian god—a robe of office which, for the rest, is not without an interest of its own for the scientific ethnologist. It belongs to me especially as King of the Birds, and in it, in effect, is represented at least one feather of each kind or color from every part of the body of every species of bird that inhabits Boupari. I thus sum up, pour ainsi dire, in my official costume all the birds of the island, as Tu-Kila-Kila, the very high god, sums up, in his quaint and curious dress, the land and the sea, the trees and the stones, earth and air, and fire and water."
Familiarity with danger begets at last a certain callous indifference. Muriel was surprised in her own mind to discover how easily they could chat with M. Peyron on such indifferent subjects, with that awful doom of an approaching death hanging over them so shortly. But the fact was, terrors of every kind had so encompassed them round since their arrival on the island that the mere additional certainty of a date and mode of execution was rather a relief to their minds than otherwise. It partook of the nature of a reprieve, not of a sentence. Besides, this meeting with another speaker of a European tongue seemed to them so full of promise and hope that they almost forgot the terrors of their threatened end in their discussion of possible schemes for escape to freedom. Even M. Peyron himself, who had spent nine long years of exile in the island, felt that the arrival of two new Europeans gave him some hope of effecting at last his own retreat from this unendurable position. His talk was all of passing steamers. If the Australasian had come near enough once to sight the island, he argued, then the homeward-bound vessel, en route for Honolulu, must have begun to take a new course considerably to the eastward of the old navigable channel. If this were so, their obvious plan was to keep a watch, day and night, for another passing Australian liner, and whenever one hove in sight, to steal away to the shore, seize a stray canoe, overpower, if possible, their Shadows, or give them the slip, and make one bold stroke for freedom on the open ocean.
None of them could conceal from their own minds, to be sure, the extreme difficulty of carrying out this programme. In the first place, it was a toss-up whether they ever sighted another steamer at all; for during the weeks they had already passed on the island, not a sign of one had appeared from any quarter. Then, again, even supposing a steamer ever hove in sight, what likelihood that they could make out for her in an open canoe in time to attract attention before she had passed the island? Tu-Kila-Kila would never willingly let them go; their Shadows would watch them with unceasing care; the whole body of natives would combine together to prevent their departure. If they ran away at all, they must run for their lives; as soon as the islanders discovered they were gone, every war-canoe in the place would be manned at once with bloodthirsty savages, who would follow on their track with relentless persistence.
As for Muriel, less prepared for such dangerous adventures than the two men, she was rather inclined to attach a certain romantic importance (as a girl might do) to the story of the parrot and the possible disclosures which it could make if it could only communicate with them. The mysterious element in the history of that unique bird attracted her fancy. "The only one of its race now left alive," she said, with slow reflectiveness. "Like Dolly Pentreath, the last old woman who could speak Cornish! I wonder how long parrots ever live? Do you know at all, monsieur? You are the King of the Birds—you ought to be an authority on their habits and manners."
The Frenchman smiled a gallant smile. "Unhappily, mademoiselle," he said, "though, as a medical student, I took up to a certain extent biological science in general at the College de France, I never paid any special or peculiar attention in Paris to birds in particular. But it is the universal opinion of the natives (if that counts for much) that parrots live to a very great age; and this one old parrot of mine, whom I call Methuselah on account of his advanced years, is considered by them all to be a perfect patriarch. In effect, when the oldest men now living on the island were little boys, they tell me that Methuselah was already a venerable and much-venerated parrot. He must certainly have outlived all the rest of his race by at least the best part of three-quarters of a century. For the islanders themselves not infrequently live, by unanimous consent, to be over a hundred."
"I remember to have read somewhere," Felix said, turning it over in his mind, "that when Humboldt was travelling in the wilds of South America he found one very old parrot in an Indian village, which, the Indians assured him, spoke the language of an extinct tribe, incomprehensible then by any living person. If I recollect aright, Humboldt believed that particular bird must have lived to be nearly a hundred and fifty."
"That is so, monsieur," the Frenchman answered. "I remember the case well, and have often recalled it. I recollect our professor mentioning it one day in the course of his lectures. And I have always mentally coupled that parrot of Humboldt's with my own old friend and subject, Methuselah. However, that only impresses upon one more fully the folly of hoping that we can learn anything worth knowing from him. I have heard him recite his story many times over, though now he repeats it less frequently than he used formerly to do; and I feel convinced it is couched in some unknown and, no doubt, forgotten language. It is a much more guttural and unpleasant tongue than any of the soft dialects now spoken in Polynesia. It belonged, I am convinced, to that yet earlier and more savage race which the Polynesians must have displaced; and as such it is now, I feel certain, practically irrecoverable."
"If they were more savage than the Polynesians," Muriel said, with a profound sigh, "I'm sorry for anybody who fell into their clutches."
"But what would not many philologists at home in England give," Felix murmured, philosophically, "for a transcript of the words that parrot can speak—perhaps a last relic of the very earliest and most primitive form of human language!"
At the very moment when these things were passing under the wattled roof of Muriel's hut, it happened that on the taboo-space outside, Toko, the Shadow, stood talking for a moment with Ula, the fourteenth wife of the great Tu-Kila-Kila.
"I never see you now, Toko," the beautiful Polynesian said, leaning almost across the white line of coral-sand which she dared not transgress. "Times are dull at the temple since you came to be Shadow to the white-faced stranger."
"It was for that that Tu-Kila-Kila sent me here," the Shadow answered, with profound conviction. "He is jealous, the great god. He is bad. He is cruel. He wanted to get rid of me. So he sent me away to the King of the Rain that I might not see you."
Ula pouted, and held up her wounded finger before his eyes coquettishly. "See what he did to me," she said, with a mute appeal for sympathy—though in that particular matter the truth was not in her. "Your god was angry with me to-day because I hurt his hand, and he clutched me by the throat, and almost choked me. He has a bad heart. See how he bit me and drew blood. Some of these days, I believe, he will kill me and eat me."
The Shadow glanced around him suspiciously with an uneasy air. Then he whispered low, in a voice half grudge, half terror, "If he does, he is a great god—he can search all the world—I fear him much, but Toko's heart is warm. Let Tu-Kila-Kila look out for vengeance."
The woman glanced across at him open-eyed, with her enticing look. "If the King of the Rain, who is Korong, knew all the secret," she murmured, slowly, "he would soon be Tu-Kila-Kila himself; and you and I could then meet together freely."
The Shadow started. It was a terrible suggestion. "You mean to say—" he cried; then fear overcame him, and, crouching down where he sat, he gazed around him, terrified. Who could say that the wind would not report his words to Tu-Kila-Kila?
Ula laughed at his fears. "Pooh," she answered, smiling. "You are a man; and yet you are afraid of a little taboo. I am a woman; and yet if I knew the secret as you do, I would break taboo as easily as I would break an egg-shell. I would tell the white-faced stranger all—if only it would bring you and me together forever."
"It is a great risk, a very great risk," the Shadow answered, trembling. "Tu-Kila-Kila is a mighty god. He may be listening this moment, and may pinch us to death by his spirits for our words, or burn us to ashes with a flash of his anger."
The woman smiled an incredulous smile. "If you had lived as near Tu-Kila-Kila as I have," she answered, boldly, "you would think as little, perhaps, of his divinity as I do."
For even in Polynesia, superstitious as it is, no hero is a god to his wives or his valets.
METHUSELAH GIVES SIGN.
All the hopes of the three Europeans were concentrated now on the bare off-chance of a passing steamer. M. Peyron in particular was fully convinced that, if the Australasian had found the inner channel practicable, other ships in future would follow her example. With this idea firmly fixed in his head, he arranged with Felix that one or other of them should keep watch alternately by night as far as possible; and he also undertook that a canoe should constantly be in readiness to carry them away to the supposititious ship, if occasion arose for it. Muriel took counsel with Mali on the question of rousing the Frenchman if a steamer appeared, and they were the first to sight it; and Mali, in whom renewed intercourse with white people had restored to some extent the civilized Queensland attitude of mind, readily enough promised to assist in their scheme, provided she was herself taken with them, and so relieved from the terrible vengeance which would otherwise overtake her. "If Boupari man catch me," she said, in her simple, graphic, Polynesian way, "Boupari man kill me, and lay me in leaves, and cook me very nice, and make great feast of me, like him do with Jani." From that untimely end both Felix and Muriel promised faithfully, as far as in them lay, to protect her.
To communicate with M. Peyron by daytime, without arousing the ever-wakeful suspicion of the natives, Felix hit upon an excellent plan. He burnished his metal matchbox to the very highest polish it was capable of taking, and then heliographed by means of sun-flashes on the Morse code. He had learned the code in Fiji in the course of his official duties; and he taught the Frenchman now readily enough how to read and reply with the other half of the box, torn off for the purpose.
It was three or four days, however, before the two English wanderers ventured to return M. Peyron's visit. They didn't wish to attract too greatly the attention of the islanders. Gradually, as their stay on the island went on, they learned the truth that Tu-Kila-Kila's eyes, as he himself had boasted, were literally everywhere. For he had spies of his own, told off in every direction, who dogged the steps of his victims unseen. Sometimes, as Felix and Muriel walked unsuspecting through the jungle paths, closely followed by their Shadows, a stealthy brown figure, crouched low to the ground, would cross the road for a moment behind them, and disappear again noiselessly into the dense mass of underbrush. Then Mali or Toko, turning round, all hushed, with a terrified look, would murmur low to themselves, or to one another, "There goes one of the Eyes of Tu-Kila-Kila!" It was only by slow degrees that this system of espionage grew clear to the strangers; but as soon as they had learned its reality and ubiquity, they felt at once how undesirable it would be for them to excite the terrible man-god's jealousy and suspicion by being observed too often in close personal intercourse with their fellow-exile and victim, the Frenchman. It was this that made them have recourse to the device of the heliograph.
So three or four days passed before Muriel dared to approach M. Peyron's cottage. When she did at last go there with Felix, it was in the early morning, before the fierce tropical sun, that beat full on the island, had begun to exert its midday force and power. The path that led there lay through the thick and tangled mass of brushwood which covered the greater part of the island with its dense vegetation; it was overhung by huge tree-ferns and broad-leaved Southern bushes, and abutted at last on the little wind-swept knoll where the King of the Birds had his appropriate dwelling-place. The Frenchman received them with studied Parisian hospitality. He had decorated his arbor with fresh flowers for the occasion, and bright tropical fruits, with their own green leaves, did duty for the coffee or the absinthe of his fatherland on his homemade rustic table. Yet in spite of all the rudeness of the physical surroundings, they felt themselves at home again with this one exiled European; the faint flavor of civilization pervaded and permeated the Frenchman's hut after the unmixed savagery to which they had now been so long accustomed.
Muriel's curiosity, however, centred most about the mysterious old parrot, of whose strange legend so much had been said to her. After they had sat for a little under the shade of the spreading banyan, to cool down from their walk—for it was an oppressive morning—M. Peyron led her round to his aviary at the back of the hut, and introduced her, by their native names, to all his subjects. "I am responsible for their lives," he said, gravely, "for their welfare, for their happiness. If I were to let one of them grow old without a successor in the field to follow him up and receive his soul—as in the case of my friend Methuselah here, who was so neglected by my predecessors—the whole species would die out for want of a spirit, and my own life would atone for that of my people. There you have the central principle of the theology of Boupari. Every race, every element, every power of nature, is summed up for them in some particular person or thing; and on the life of that person or thing depends, as they believe, the entire health of the species, the sequence of events, the whole order and succession of natural phenomena."
Felix approached the mysterious and venerable bird with somewhat incautious fingers. "It looks very old," he said, trying to stroke its head and neck with a friendly gesture. "You do well, indeed, in calling it Methuselah."
As he spoke, the bird, alarmed at the vague consciousness of a hand and voice which it did not recognize and mindful of Tu-Kila-Kila's recent attack, made a vicious peck at the fingers outstretched to caress it. "Take care!" the Frenchman cried, in a warning voice. "The patriarch's temper is no longer what it was sixty or seventy years ago. He grows old and peevish. His humor is soured. He will sing no longer the lively little scraps of Offenbach I have taught him. He does nothing but sit still and mumble now in his own forgotten language. And he's dreadfully cross—so crabbed—mon Dieu, what a character! Why, the other day, as I told you, he bit Tu-Kila-Kila himself, the high god of the island, with a good hard peck, when that savage tried to touch him; you'd have laughed to see his godship sent off bleeding to his hut with a wounded finger! I will confess I was by no means sorry at the sight myself. I do not love that god, nor he me; and I was glad when Methuselah, on whom he is afraid to revenge himself openly, gave him a nice smart bite for trying to interfere with him."
"He's very snappish, to be sure," Felix said, with a smile, trying once more to push forward one hand to stroke the bird cautiously. But Methuselah resented all such unauthorized intrusions. He was growing too old to put up with strangers. He made a second vicious attempt to peck at the hand held out to soothe him, and screamed, as he did so, in the usual discordant and unpleasant voice of an angry or frightened parrot.
"Why, Felix," Muriel put in, taking him by the arm with a girlish gesture—for even the terrors by which they were surrounded hadn't wholly succeeded in killing out the woman within her—"how clumsy you are! You don't understand one bit how to manage parrots. I had a parrot of my own at my aunt's in Australia, and I know their ways and all about them. Just let me try him." She held out her soft white hand toward the sulky bird with a fearless, caressing gesture. "Pretty Poll, pretty Poll!" she said, in English, in the conventional tone of address to their kind. "Did the naughty man go and frighten her then? Was she afraid of his hand? Did Polly want a lump of sugar?"
On a sudden the bird opened its eyes quickly with an awakened air, and looked her back in the face, half blindly, half quizzingly. It preened its wings for a second, and crooned with pleasure. Then it put forward its neck, with its head on one side, took her dainty finger gently between its beak and tongue, bit it for pure love with a soft, short pressure, and at once allowed her to stroke its back and sides with a very pleased and surprised expression. The success of her skill flattered Muriel. "There! it knows me!" she cried, with childish delight; "it understands I'm a friend! It takes to me at once! Pretty Poll! Pretty Poll! Come, Poll, come and kiss me!"
The bird drew back at the words, and steadied itself for a moment knowingly on its perch. Then it held up its head, gazed around it with a vacant air, as if suddenly awakened from a very long sleep, and, opening its mouth, exclaimed in loud, clear, sharp, and distinct tones—and in English—"Pretty Poll! Pretty Poll! Polly wants a buss! Polly wants a nice sweet bit of apple!"
For a moment M. Peyron couldn't imagine what had happened. Felix looked at Muriel. Muriel looked at Felix. The Englishman held out both his hands to her in a wild fervor of surprise. Muriel took them in her own, and looked deep into his eyes, while tears rose suddenly and dropped down her cheeks, one by one, unchecked. They couldn't say why, themselves; they didn't know wherefore; yet this unexpected echo of their own tongue, in the mouth of that strange and mysterious bird, thrilled through them instinctively with a strange, unearthly tremor. In some dim and unexplained way, they felt half unconsciously to themselves that this discovery was, perhaps, the first clue to the solution of the terrible secret whose meshes encompassed them.
M. Peyron looked on in mute astonishment. He had heard the bird repeat that strange jargon so often that it had ceased to have even the possibility of a meaning for him. It was the way of Methuselah—just his language that he talked; so harsh! so guttural! "Pretty Poll! Pretty Poll!" he had noticed the bird harp upon those quaint words again and again. They were part, no doubt, of that old primitive and forgotten Pacific language the creature had learned in other days from some earlier bearer of the name and ghastly honors of Tu-Kila-Kila. Why should these English seem so profoundly moved by them?
"Mademoiselle doesn't surely understand the barbarous dialect which our Methuselah speaks!" he exclaimed in surprise, glancing half suspiciously from one to the other of these incomprehensible Britons. Like most other Frenchmen, he had been brought up in total ignorance of every European language except his own; and the words the parrot pronounced, when delivered with the well-known additions of parrot harshness and parrot volubility, seemed to him so inexpressibly barbaric in their clicks and jerks that he hadn't yet arrived at the faintest inkling of the truth as he observed their emotion.
Felix seized his new friend's hand in his and wrung it warmly. "Don't you see what it is?" he exclaimed, half beside himself with this vague hope of some unknown solution. "Don't you realize how the thing stands? Don't you guess the truth? This isn't a Polynesian, dialect at all. It's our own mother tongue. The bird speaks English!"
"English!" M. Peyron replied, with incredulous scorn. "What! Methuselah speak English! Oh, no, monsieur, impossible. Vous vous trompez, j'en suis sur. I can never believe it. Those harsh, inarticulate sounds to belong to the noble language of Shaxper and Newtowne! Ah, monsieur, incroyable! vous vous trompez; vous vous trompez!"
As he spoke, the bird put its head on one side once more, and, looking out of its half-blind old eyes with a crafty glance round the corner at Muriel, observed again, in not very polite English, "Pretty Poll! Pretty Poll! Polly wants some fruit! Polly wants a nut! Polly wants to go to bed!... God save the king! To hell with all papists!"
"Monsieur," Felix said, a certain solemn feeling of surprise coming over him slowly at this last strange clause, "it is perfectly true. The bird speaks English. The bird that knows the secret of which we are all in search—the bird that can tell us the truth about Tu-Kila-Kila—can tell us in the tongue which mademoiselle and I speak as our native language. And what is more—and more strange—gather from his tone and the tenor of his remarks, he was taught, long since—a century ago, or more—and by an English sailor!"
Muriel held out a bit of banana on a sharp stick to the bird. Methuselah-Polly took it gingerly off the end, like a well-behaved parrot? "God save the king!" Muriel said, in a quiet voice, trying to draw him on to speak a little further.
Methuselah twisted his eye sideways, first this way, then that, and responded in a very clear tone, indeed, "God save the king! Confound the Duke of York! Long live Dr. Oates! And to hell with all papists!"
They looked at one another again with a wild surmise. The voice was as the voice of some long past age. Could the parrot be speaking to them in the words of seventeenth-century English?
Even M. Peyron, who at first had received the strange discovery with incredulity, woke up before long to the importance of this sudden and unexpected revelation. The Tu-Kila-Kila who had taught Methuselah that long poem or sermon, which native tradition regarded as containing the central secret of their creed or its mysteries, and which the cruel and cunning Tu-Kila-Kila of to-day believed to be of immense importance to his safety—that Tu-Kila-Kila of other days was, in all probability, no other than an English sailor. Cast on these shores, perhaps, as they themselves had been, by the mercy of the waves, he had managed to master the language and religion of the savages among whom he found himself thrown; he had risen to be the representative of the cannibal god; and, during long months or years of tedious exile, he had beguiled his leisure by imparting to the unconscious ears of a bird the weird secret of his success, for the benefit of any others of his own race who might be similarly treated by fortune in future. Strange and romantic as it all sounded, they could hardly doubt now that this was the real explanation of the bird's command of English words. One problem alone remained to disturb their souls. Was the bird really in possession of any local secret and mystery at all, or was this the whole burden of the message he had brought down across the vast abyss of time—"God save the king, and to hell with all papists?"
Felix turned to M. Peyron in a perfect tumult of suspense. "What he recites is long?" he said, interrogatively, with profound interest. "You have heard him say much more than this at times? The words he has just uttered are not those of the sermon or poem you mentioned?"
M. Peyron opened his hands expansively before him. "Oh, mon Dieu, no, monsieur," he answered, with effusion. "You should hear him recite it. He's never done. It is whole chapters—whole chapters; a perfect Henriade in parrot-talk. When once he begins, there's no possibility of checking or stopping him. On, on he goes. Farewell to the rest; he insists on pouring it all forth to the very last sentence. Gabble, gabble, gabble; chatter, chatter, chatter; pouf, pouf, pouf; boum, boum, boum; he runs ahead eternally in one long discordant sing-song monotone. The person who taught him must have taken entire months to teach him, a phrase at a time, paragraph by paragraph. It is wonderful a bird's memory could hold so much. But till now, taking it for granted he spoke only some wild South Pacific dialect, I never paid much attention to Methuselah's vagaries."
"Hush. He's going to speak," Muriel cried, holding up, in alarm, one warning finger.
And the bird, his tongue-strings evidently loosened by the strange recurrence after so many years of those familiar English sounds, "Pretty Poll! Pretty Poll!" opened his mouth again in a loud chuckle of delight, and cried, with persistent shrillness, "God save the king! A fig for all arrant knaves and roundheads!"
A creepier feeling than ever came over the two English listeners at those astounding words. "Great heavens!" Felix exclaimed to the unsuspecting Frenchman, "he speaks in the style of the Stuarts and the Commonwealth!"
The Frenchman started. "Epoque Louis Quatorze!" he murmured, translating the date mentally into his own more familiar chronology. "Two centuries since! Oh, incredible! incredible! Methuselah is old, but not quite so much of a patriarch as that. Even Humboldt's parrot could hardly have lived for two hundred years in the wilds of South America."
Felix regarded the venerable creature with a look of almost superstitious awe. "Facts are facts," he answered shortly, shutting his mouth with a little snap. "Unless this bird has been deliberately taught historical details in an archaic diction—and a shipwrecked sailor is hardly likely to be antiquarian enough to conceive such an idea—he is undoubtedly a survival from the days of the Commonwealth or the Restoration. And you say he runs on with his tale for an hour at a time! Good heavens, what a thought! I wish we could manage to start him now. Does he begin it often?"
"Monsieur," the Frenchman answered, "when I came here first, though Methuselah was already very old and feeble, he was not quite a dotard, and he used to recite it all every morning regularly. That was the hour, I suppose, at which the master, who first taught him this lengthy recitation, used originally to impress it upon him. In those days his sight and his memory were far more clear than now. But by degrees, since my arrival, he has grown dull and stupid. The natives tell me that fifty years ago, while he was already old, he was still bright and lively, and would recite the whole poem whenever anybody presented him with his greatest dainty, the claw of a moora-crab. Nowadays, however, when he can hardly eat, and hardly mumble, he is much less persistent and less coherent than formerly. To say the truth, I have discouraged him in his efforts, because his pertinacity annoyed me. So now he seldom gets through all his lesson at one bout, as he used to do at the beginning. The best way to get him on is for me to sing him one of my French songs. That seems to excite him, or to rouse him to rivalry. Then he will put his head on one side, listen critically for a while, smile a superior smile, and finally begin—jabber, jabber, jabber—trying to talk me down, as if I were a brother parrot."
"Oh, do sing now!" Muriel cried, with intense persuasion in her voice. "I do so want to hear it." She meant, of course, the parrot's story.
But the Frenchman bowed, and laid his hand on his heart. "Ah, mademoiselle," he said, "your wish is almost a royal command. And yet, do you know, it is so long since I have sung, except to please myself—my music is so rusty, old pieces you have heard—I have no accompaniment, no score—mais enfin, we are all so far from Paris!"
Muriel didn't dare to undeceive him as to her meaning, lest he should refuse to sing in real earnest, and the chance of learning the parrot's secret might slip by them irretrievably. "Oh, monsieur," she cried, fitting herself to his humor at once, and speaking as ceremoniously as if she were assisting at a musical party in the Avenue Victor Hugo, "don't decline, I beg of you, on those accounts. We are both most anxious to hear your song. Don't disappoint us, pray. Please begin immediately."
"Ah, mademoiselle," the Frenchman said, "who could resist such an appeal? You are altogether too flattering." And then, in the same cheery voice that Felix had heard on the first day he visited the King of Birds' hut, M. Peyron began, in very decent style, to pour forth the merry sounds of his rollicking song:
"Quand on conspi-re, Quand sans frayeur On peut se di-re Conspirateur— Pour tout le mon-de Il faut avoir Perruque blon-de Et collet noir."
He had hardly got as far as the end of the first stanza, however, when Methuselah, listening, with his ear cocked up most knowingly, to the Frenchman's song, raised his head in opposition, and, sitting bolt upright on his perch, began to scream forth a voluble stream of words in one unbroken flood, so fast that Muriel could hardly follow them. The bird spoke in a thick and very harsh voice, and, what was more remarkable still, with a distinct and extremely peculiar North Country accent. "In the nineteenth year of the reign of his most gracious majesty, King Charles the Second," he blurted out, viciously, with an angry look at the Frenchman, "I, Nathaniel Cross, of the borough of Sunderland, in the county of Doorham, in England, an able-bodied mariner, then sailing the South Seas in the good bark Martyr Prince, of the Port of Great Grimsby, whereof one Thomas Wells, gent., under God, was master—"
"Oh, hush, hush!" Muriel cried, unable to catch the parrot's precious words through the emulous echo of the Frenchman's music. "Whereof one Thomas Wells, gent., under God, was master—go on, Polly."
"Perruque blonde Et collet noir,"
the Frenchman repeated, with a half-offended voice, finishing his stanza.
But just as he stopped, Methuselah stopped too, and, throwing back his head in the air with a triumphant look, stared hard at his vanquished and silenced opponent out of those blinking gray eyes of his. "I thought I'd be too much for you!" he seemed to say, wrathfully.
"Whereof one Thomas Wells, gent., under God, was master," Muriel suggested again, all agog with excitement. "Go on, good bird! Go on, pretty Polly."
But Methuselah was evidently put off the scent now by the unseasonable interruption. Instead of continuing, he threw back his head a second time with a triumphant air and laughed aloud boisterously. "Pretty Polly," he cried. "Pretty Polly wants a nut. Tu-Kila-Kila maroo! Pretty Poll! Pretty Polly!"
"Sing again, for Heaven's sake!" Felix exclaimed, in a profoundly agitated mood, explaining briefly to the Frenchman the full significance of the words Methuselah had just begun to utter.
The Frenchman struck up his tune afresh to give the bird a start; but all to no avail. Methuselah was evidently in no humor for talking just then. He listened with a callous, uncritical air, bringing his white eyelids down slowly and sleepily over his bleared gray eyes. Then he nodded his head slowly. "No use," the Frenchman murmured, pursing his lips up gravely. "The bird won't talk. It's going off to sleep now. Methuselah gets visibly older every day, monsieur and mademoiselle. You are only just in time to catch his last accents."
A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD.
Early next morning, as Felix lay still in his hut, dozing, and just vaguely conscious of a buzz of a mosquito close to his ear, he was aroused by a sudden loud cry outside—a cry that called his native name three times, running: "O King of the Rain, King of the Rain, King of the Rain, awake! High time to be up! The King of the Birds sends you health and greeting!"
Felix rose at once; and his Shadow, rising before him, and unbolting the loose wooden fastener of the door, went out in haste to see who called beyond the white taboo-line of their sacred precincts.
A native woman, tall, lithe, and handsome, stood there in the full light of morning, beckoning. A strange glow of hatred gleamed in her large gray eyes. Her shapely brown bosom heaved and panted heavily. Big beads glistened moistly on her smooth, high brow. It was clear she had run all the way in haste. She was deeply excited and full of eager anxiety.
"Why, what do you want here so early, Ula?" the Shadow asked, in surprise—for it was indeed she. "How have you slipped away, as soon as the sun is risen, from the sacred hut of Tu-Kila-Kila?"
Ula's gray eyes flashed angry fire as she answered. "He has beaten me again," she cried, in revengeful tones; "see the weals on my back! See my arms and shoulders! He has drawn blood from my wounds. He is the most hateful of gods. I should love to kill him. Therefore I slipped away from him with the early dawn and came to consult with his enemy, the King of the Birds, because I heard the words that the Eyes of Tu-Kila-Kila, who pervade the world, report to their master. The Eyes have told him that the King of the Rain, the Queen of the Clouds, and the King of the Birds are plotting together in secret against Tu-Kila-Kila. When I heard that, I was glad; I went to the King of the Birds to warn him of his danger; and the King of the Birds, concerned for your safety, has sent me in haste to ask his brother gods to go at once to him."
In a minute Felix was up and had called out Mali from the neighboring hut. "Tell Missy Queenie," he cried, "to come with me to see the man-a-oui-oui! The man-a-oui-oui has sent me for us to come. She must make great haste. He wants us immediately."
With a word and a sign to Toko, Ula glided away stealthily, with the cat-like tread of the native Polynesian woman, back to her hated husband.
Felix went out to the door and heliographed with his bright metal plate, turned on the Frenchman's hill, "What is it?"
In a moment the answer flashed back, word by word, "Come quick, if you want to hear. Methuselah is reciting!"
A few seconds later Muriel emerged from her hut, and the two Europeans, closely followed, as always, by their inseparable Shadows, took the winding side-path that led through the jungle by a devious way, avoiding the front of Tu-Kila-Kila's temple, to the Frenchman's cottage.
They found M. Peyron very much excited, partly by Ula's news of Tu-Kila-Kila's attitude, but more still by Methuselah's agitated condition. "The whole night through, my dear friends," he cried, seizing their hands, "that bird has been chattering, chattering, chattering. Oh, mon Dieu, quel oiseau! It seems as though the words heard yesterday from mademoiselle had struck some lost chord in the creature's memory. But he is also very feeble. I can see that well. His garrulity is the garrulity of old age in its last flickering moments. He mumbles and mutters. He chuckles to himself. If you don't hear his message now and at once, it's my solemn conviction you will never hear it."
He led them out to the aviary, where Methuselah, in effect, was sitting on his perch, most tremulous and woebegone. His feathers shuddered visibly; he could no longer preen himself. "Listen to what he says," the Frenchman exclaimed, in a very serious voice. "It is your last, last chance. If the secret is ever to be unravelled at all, by Methuselah's aid, now is, without doubt, the proper moment to unravel it."
Muriel put out her hand and stroked the bird gently. "Pretty Poll," she said, soothingly, in a sympathetic voice. "Pretty Poll! Poor Poll! Was he ill! Was he suffering?"
At the sound of those familiar words, unheard so long till yesterday, the parrot took her finger in his beak once more, and bit it with the tenderness of his kind in their softer moments. Then he threw back his head with a sort of mechanical twist, and screamed out at the top of his voice, for the last time on earth, his mysterious message:
"Pretty Poll! Pretty Poll! God save the king! Confound the Duke of York! Death to all arrant knaves and roundheads!
"In the nineteenth year of the reign of his most gracious majesty, King Charles the Second, I, Nathaniel Cross, of the borough of Sunderland, in the county of Doorham, in England, an able-bodied mariner, then sailing the South Seas in the good bark Martyr Prince, of the Port of Great Grimsby, whereof one Thomas Wells, gent., under God, was master, was, by stress of weather, wrecked and cast away on the shores of this island, called by its gentile inhabitants by the name of Boo Parry. In which wreck, as it befell, Thomas Wells, gent., and his equipment were, by divine disposition, killed and drowned, save and except three mariners, whereof I am one, who in God's good providence swam safely through an exceeding great flood of waves and landed at last on this island. There my two companions, Owen Williams, of Swansea, in the parts of Wales, and Lewis le Pickard, a French Hewgenott refugee, were at once, by the said gentiles, cruelly entreated, and after great torture cooked and eaten at the temple of their chief god, Too-Keela-Keela. But I, myself, having through God's grace found favor in their eyes, was promoted to the post which in their speech is called Korong, the nature of which this bird, my mouthpiece, will hereafter, to your ears, more fully discover."
Having said so much, in a very jerky way, Methuselah paused, and blinked his eyes wearily.
"What does he say?" the Frenchman began, eager to know the truth. But Felix, fearful lest any interruption might break the thread of the bird's discourse and cheat them of the sequel, held up a warning finger, and then laid it on his lips in mute injunction. Methuselah threw back his head at that and laughed aloud. "God save the king!" he cried again, in a still feebler way, "and to hell with all papists!"
It was strange how they all hung on the words of that unconscious messenger from a dead and gone age, who himself knew nothing of the import of the words he was uttering. Methuselah laughed at their earnestness, shook his head once or twice, and seemed to think to himself. Then he remembered afresh the point he had broken off at.
"More fully discover. For seven years have I now lived on this island, never having seen or h'ard Christian face or voice; and at the end of that time, feeling my health feail, and being apprehensive lest any of my fellow-countrymen should hereafter suffer the same fate as I have done, I began to teach this parrot his message, a few words at a time, impressing it duly and fully on his memory.
"Larn, then, O wayfarer, that the people of Boo Parry are most arrant gentiles, heathens, and carribals. And this, as I discover, is the nature and method of their vile faith. They hold that the gods are each and several incarnate in some one particular human being. This human being they worship and reverence with all ghostly respect as his incarnation. And chiefly, above all, do they revere the great god Too-Keela-Keela, whose representative (may the Lord in Heaven forgive me for the same) I myself am at this present speaking. Having thus, for my sins, attained to that impious honor.
"God save the king! Confound the Duke of York! To hell with all papists!
"It is the fashion of this people to hold that their gods must always be strong and lusty. For they argue to themselves thus: that the continuance of the rain must needs depend upon the vigor and subtlety of its Soul, the rain-god. So the continuance and fruitfulness of the trees and plants which yield them food must needs depend upon the health of the tree-god. And the life of the world, and the light of the sun, and the well-being of all things that in them are, must depend upon the strength and cunning of the high god of all, Too-Keela-Keela. Hence they take great care and woorship of their gods, surrounding them with many rules which they call Taboo, and restricting them as to what they shall eat, and what drink, and wherewithal they shall seemly clothe themselves. For they think that if the King of the Rain at' anything that might cause the colick, or like humor or distemper, the weather will thereafter be stormy and tempestuous; but so long as the King of the Rain fares well and retains his health, so long will the weather over their island of Boo Parry be clear and prosperous.
"Furthermore, as I have larned from their theologians, being myself, indeed, the greatest of their gods, it is evident that they may not let any god die, lest that department of nature over which he presideth should wither away and feail, as it were, with him. But reasonably no care that mortal man can exercise will prevent the possibility of their god—seeing he is but one of themselves—growing old and feeble and dying at last. To prevent which calamity, these gentile folk have invented (as I believe by the aid and device of Sathan) this horrid and most unnatural practice. The man-god must be killed so soon as he showeth in body or mind that his native powers are beginning to feail. And it is necessary that he be killed, according to their faith, in this ensuing fashion.
"If the man-god were to die slowly by a death in the course of nature, the ways of the world might be stopped altogether. Hence these savages catch the soul of their god, as it were, ere it grow old and feeble, and transfer it betimes, by a magic device, to a suitable successor. And surely, they say, this suitable successor can be none other than him that is able to take it from him. This, then, is their horrid counsel and device—that each one of their gods should kill his antecessor. In doing thus, he taketh the old god's life and soul, which thereupon migrates and dwells within him. And by this tenure—may Heaven be merciful to me, a sinner—do I, Nathaniel Cross, of the county of Doorham, now hold this dignity of Too-Keela-Keela, having slain, therefor, in just quarrel, my antecessor in the high godship."
As he reached these words Methuselah paused, and choked in his throat slightly. The mere mechanical effort of continuing the speech he had learned by heart two hundred years before, and repeated so often since that it had become part of his being, was now almost too much for him. The Frenchman was right. They were only just in time. A few days later, and the secret would have died with the bird that preserved it.
AN UNFINISHED TALE.
For a minute or two Methuselah mumbled inarticulately to himself. Then, to their intense discomfiture, he began once more: "In the nineteenth year of the reign of his most gracious majesty, King Charles the Second, I, Nathaniel Cross—"
"Oh, this will never do," Felix cried. "We haven't got yet to the secret at all. Muriel, do try to set him right. He must waste no breath. We can't afford now to let him go all over it."
Muriel stretched out her hand and soothed the bird gently as before. "Having slain, therefore, my predecessor in the high godship," she suggested, in the same singsong voice as the parrot's.
To her immense relief, Methuselah took the hint with charming docility.
"In the high godship," he went on, mechanically, where he had stopped. "And this here is the manner whereby I obtained it. The Too-Keela-Keela from time to time doth generally appoint any castaway stranger that comes to the island to the post of Korong—that is to say, an annual god or victim. For, as the year doth renew itself at each change of seasons, so do these carribals in their gentilisme believe and hold that the gods of the seasons—to wit, the King of the Rain, the Queen of the Clouds, the Lord of Green Leaves, the King of Fruits, and others—must needs be sleain and renewed at the diverse solstices. Now, it so happened that I, on my arrival in the island, was appointed Korong, and promoted to the post of King of the Rain, having a native woman assigned me as Queen of the Clouds, with whom I might keep company. This woman being, after her kind, enamored of me, and anxious to escape her own fate, to be sleain by my side, did betray to me that secret which they call in their tongue the Great Taboo, and which had been betrayed to herself in turn by a native man, her former lover. For the men are instructed in these things in the mysteries when they coom of age, but not the women.
"And the Great Taboo is this: No man can becoom a Too-Keela-Keela unless he first sleay the man in whom the high god is incarnate for the moment. But in order that he may sleay him, he must also himself be a full Korong, only those persons who are already gods being capable for the highest post in their hierarchy; even as with ourselves, none but he that is a deacon may become a priest, and none but he that is a priest may be made a bishop. For this reason, then, the Too-Keela-Keela prefers to advance a stranger to the post of Korong, seeing that such a person will not have been initiated in the mysteries of the island, and therefore will not be aware of those sundry steps which must needs be taken of him that would inherit the godship.
"Furthermore, even a Korong can only obtain the highest rank of Too-Keela-Keela if he order all things according to the forms and ceremonies of the Taboo parfectly. For these gentiles are very careful of the levitical parts of their religion, deriving the same, as it seems to me, from the polity of the Hebrews, the fame of whose tabernacle must sure have gone forth through the ends of the woorld, and the knowledge of whose temple must have been yet more wide dispersed by Solomon, his ships, when they came into these parts to fetch gold from Ophir. And the ceremony is, that before any man may sleay the 'arthly tenement of Too-Keela-Keela and inherit his soul, which is in very truth, as they do think the god himself, he must needs fight with the person in whom Too-Keela-Keela doth then dwell, and for this reason: If the holder of the soul can defend himself in fight, then it is clear that his strength is not one whit decayed, nor is his vigor feailing; nor yet has his assailant been able to take his soul from him. But if the Korong in open fight do sleay the person in whom Too-Keela-Keela dwells, he becometh at once a Too-Keela-Keela himself—that is to say, in their tongue, the Lord of Lords, because he hath taken the life of him that preceded him.
"Yet so intricate is the theology and practice of these loathsome savages, that not even now have I explained it in full to you, O shipwrecked mariner, for your aid and protection. For a Korong, though it be a part of his privilege to contend, if he will, with Too-Keela-Keela for the high godship and princedom of this isle, may only do so at certain appointed times, places, and seasons. Above all things, it is necessary that he should first find out the hiding-place of the soul of Too-Keela-Keela. For though the Too-Keela-Keela for the time that is, be animated by the god, yet, for greater security, he doth not keep his soul in his own body, but, being above all things the god of fruitfulness and generation, who causes women to bear children, and the plant called taro to bring forth its increase, he keepeth his soul in the great sacred tree behind his temple, which is thus the Father of All Trees, and the chiefest abode of the great god Too-Keela-Keela.
"Nor does Too-Keela-Keela's soul abide equally in every part of this aforesaid tree; but in a certain bough of it, resembling a mistletoe, which hath yellow leaves, and, being broken off, groweth ever green and yellow afresh; which is the central mystery of all their Sathanic religion. For in this very bough—easy to be discerned by the eye among the green leaves of the tree—" the bird paused and faltered.
Muriel leaned forward in an agony of excitement. "Among the green leaves of the tree—" she went on soothing him.
Her voice seemed to give the parrot a fresh impulse to speak. "—Is contained, as it were," he continued, feebly, "the divine essence itself, the soul and life of Too-Keela-Keela. Whoever, then, being a full Korong, breaks this off, hath thus possessed himself of the very god in person. This, however, he must do by exceeding stealth; for Too-Keela-Keela, or rather the man that bears that name, being the guardian and defender of the great god, walks ever up and down, by day and by night, in exceeding great cunning, armed with a spear and with a hatchet of stone, around the root of the tree, watching jealously over the branch which is, as he believes, his own soul and being. I, therefore, being warned of the Taboo by the woman that was my consort, did craftily, near the appointed time for my own death, creep out of my hut, and my consort, having induced one of the wives of Too-Keela-Keela to make him drunken with too much of that intoxicating drink which they do call kava, did proceed—did proceed—did proceed—In the nineteenth year of the reign of his most gracious majesty, King Charles the Second—"
Muriel bent forward once more in an agony of suspense. "Oh, go on, good Poll!" she cried. "Go on. Remember it. Did proceed to—"
The single syllable helped Methuselah's memory. "—Did proceed to stealthily pluck the bough, and, having shown the same to Fire and Water, the guardians of the Taboo, did boldly challenge to single combat the bodily tenement of the god, with spear and hatchet, provided for me in accordance with ancient custom by Fire and Water. In which combat, Heaven mercifully befriending me against my enemy, I did coom out conqueror; and was thereupon proclaimed Too-Keela-Keela myself, with ceremonies too many and barbarous to mention, lest I raise your gorge at them. But that which is most important to tell you for your own guidance and safety, O mariner, is this—that being the sole and only end I have in imparting this history to so strange a messenger—that after you have by craft plucked the sacred branch, and by force of arms over-cootn Too-Keela-Keela, it is by all means needful, whether you will or not, that submitting to the hateful and gentile custom of this people—of this people—Pretty Poll! Pretty Poll! God save—God save the king! Death to the nineteenth year of the reign of all arrant knaves and roundheads."
He dropped his head on his breast, and blinked his white eyelids more feebly than ever. His strength was failing him fast. The Soul of all dead parrots was wearing out. M. Peyron, who had stood by all this time, not knowing in any way what might be the value of the bird's disclosures, came forward and stroked poor Methuselah with his caressing hand. But Methuselah was incapable now of any further effort. He opened his blind eyes sleepily for the last, last time, and stared around him with a blank stare at the fading universe. "God save the king!" he screamed aloud with a terrible gasp, true to his colors still. "God save the king, and to hell with all papists!"
Then he fell off his perch, stone dead, on the ground. They were never to hear the conclusion of that strange, quaint message from a forgotten age to our more sceptical century.
Felix looked at Muriel, and Muriel looked at Felix. They could hardly contain themselves with awe and surprise. The parrot's words were so human, its speech was so real to them, that they felt as though the English Tu-Kila-Kila of two hundred years back had really and truly been speaking to them from that perch; it was a human creature indeed that lay dead before them. Felix raised the warm body from the ground with positive reverence. "We will bury it decently," he said in French, turning to M. Peyron. "He was a plucky bird, indeed, and he has carried out his master's intentions nobly."
As they spoke, a little rustling in the jungle hard by attracted their attention. Felix turned to look. A stealthy brown figure glided away in silence through the tangled brushwood. M. Peyron started. "We are observed, monsieur," he said. "We must look out for squalls! It is one of the Eyes of Tu-Kila-Kila!"
"Let him do his worst!" Felix answered. "We know his secret now, and can protect ourselves against him. Let us return to the shade, monsieur, and talk this all over. Methuselah has indeed given us something to-day very serious to think about."
And yet, when all was said and done, knowledge of Tu-Kila-Kila's secret didn't seem to bring Felix and Muriel much nearer a solution of their own great problems than they had been from the beginning. In spite of all Methuselah had told them, they were as far off as ever from securing their escape, or even from the chance of sighting an English steamer.
This last was still the main hope and expectation of all three Europeans. M. Peyron, who was a bit of a mathematician, had accurately calculated the time, from what Felix told him, when the Australasian would pass again on her next homeward voyage; and, when that time arrived, it was their united intention to watch night and day for the faintest glimmer of her lights, or the faintest wreath of her smoke on the far eastern horizon. They had ventured to confide their design to all three of their Shadows; and the Shadows, attached by the kindness to which they were so little accustomed among their own people, had in every case agreed to assist them with the canoe, if occasion served them. So for a time the two doomed victims subsided into their accustomed calm of mingled hope and despair, waiting patiently for the expected arrival of the much-longed-for Australasian.
If she took that course once, why not a second time? And if ever she hove in sight, might they not hope, after all, to signal to her with their rudely constructed heliograph, and stop her?
As for Methuselah's secret, there was only one way, Felix thought, in which it could now prove of any use to them. When the actual day of their doom drew nigh, he might, perhaps, be tempted to try the fate which Nathaniel Cross, of Sunderland, had successfully courted. That might gain them at least a little respite. Though even so he hardly knew what good it could do him to be elevated for a while into the chief god of the island. It might not even avail him to save Muriel's life; for he did not doubt that when the awful day itself had actually come the natives would do their best to kill her in spite of him, unless he anticipated them by fulfilling his own terrible, yet merciful, promise.
Week after week went by—month after month passed—and the date when the Australasian might reasonably be expected to reappear drew nearer and nearer. They waited and trembled. At last, a few days before the time M. Peyron had calculated, as Felix was sitting under the big shady tree in his garden one morning, while Muriel, now worn out with hope deferred, lay within her hut alone with Mali, a sound of tom-toms and beaten palms was heard on the hill-path. The natives around fell on their faces or fled. It announced the speedy approach of Tu-Kila-Kila.
By this time both the castaways had grown comparatively accustomed to that hideous noise, and to the hateful presence which it preceded and heralded. A dozen temple attendants tripped on either side down the hillpath, to guard him, clapping their hands in a barbaric measure as they went; Fire and Water, in the midst, supported and flanked the divine umbrella. Felix rose from his seat with very little ceremony, indeed, as the great god crossed the white taboo-line of his precincts, followed only beyond the limit by Fire and Water.
Tu-Kila-Kila was in his most insolent vein. He glanced around with a horrid light of triumph dancing visibly in his eyes. It was clear he had come, intent upon some grand theatrical coup. He meant to take the white-faced stranger by surprise this time. "Good-morning, O King of the Rain," he exclaimed, in a loud voice and with boisterous familiarity. "How do you like your outlook now? Things are getting on. Things are getting on. The end of your rule is drawing very near, isn't it? Before long I must make the seasons change. I must make my sun turn. I must twist round my sky. And then, I shall need a new Korong instead of you, O pale-faced one!"
Felix looked back at him without moving a muscle.
"I am well," he answered shortly, restraining his anger. "The year turns round whether you will or not. You are right that the sun will soon begin to move southward on its path again. But many things may happen to all of us meanwhile. I am not afraid of you."
As he spoke, he drew his knife, and opened the blade, unostentatiously, but firmly. If the worst were really coming now, sooner than he expected, he would at least not forget his promise to Muriel.
Tu-Kila-Kila smiled a hateful and ominous smile. "I am a great god," he said, calmly, striking an attitude as was his wont. "Hear how my people clap their hands in my honor! I order all things. I dispose the course of nature in heaven and earth. If I look at a cocoa-nut tree, it dies; if I glance at a bread-fruit, it withers away. We will see before long whether or not you are afraid of me. Meanwhile, O Korong, I have come to claim my dues at your hands. Prepare for your fate. To-morrow the Queen of the Clouds must be sealed my bride. Fetch her out, that I may speak with her. I have come to tell her so."
It was a thunderbolt from a clear sky, and it fell with terrible effect on Felix. For a moment the knife trembled in his grasp with an almost irresistible impulse. He could hardly restrain himself, as he heard those horrible, incredible words, and saw the loathsome smirk on the speaker's face by which they were accompanied, from leaping then and there at the savage's throat, and plunging his blade to the haft into the vile creature's body. But by a violent effort he mastered his indignation and wrath for the present. Planting himself full in front of Tu-Kila-Kila, and blocking the way to the door of that sacred English girl's hut—oh, how horrible it was to him even to think of her purity being contaminated by the vile neighborhood, for one minute, of that loathsome monster! He looked full into the wretch's face, and answered very distinctly, in low, slow tones, "If you dare to take one step toward the place where that lady now rests, if you dare to move your foot one inch nearer, if you dare to ask to see her face again, I will plunge the knife hilt-deep into your vile heart, and kill you where you stand without one second's deliberation. Now you hear my words and you know what I mean. My weapon is keener and fiercer than any you Polynesians ever saw. Repeat those words once more, and by all that's true and holy, before they're out of your mouth I leap upon you and stab you."
Tu-Kila-Kila drew back in sudden surprise. He was unaccustomed to be so bearded in his own sacred island. "Well, I shall claim her to-morrow," he faltered out, taken aback by Felix's unexpected energy. He paused for a second, then he went on more slowly: "To-morrow I will come with all my people to claim my bride. This afternoon they will bring her mats of grass and necklets of nautilus shell to deck her for her wedding, as becomes Tu-Kila-Kila's chosen one. The young maids of Boupari will adorn her for her lord, in the accustomed dress of Tu-Kila-Kila's wives. They will clap their hands; they will sing the marriage song. Then early in the morning I will come to fetch her—and woe to him who strives to prevent me!"
Felix looked at him long, with a fixed and dogged look.
"What has made you think of this devilry?" he asked at last, still grasping his knife hard, and half undecided whether or not to use it. "You have invented all these ideas. You have no claim, even in the horrid customs of your savage country, to demand such a sacrifice."
Tu-Kila-Kila laughed loud, a laugh of triumphant and discordant merriment. "Ha, ha!" he cried, "you do not understand our customs, and will you teach me, the very high god, the guardian of the laws and practices of Boupari? You know nothing; you are as a little child. I am absolute wisdom. With every Korong, this is always our rule. Till the moon is full, on the last month before we offer up the sacrifice, the Queen of the Clouds dwells apart with her Shadow in her own new temple. So our fathers decreed it. But at the full of the moon, when the day has come, the usage is that Tu-Kila-Kila, the very high god, confers upon her the honor of making her his bride. It is a mighty honor. The feast is great. Blood flows like water. For seven days and nights, then, she lives with Tu-Kila-Kila in his sacred abode, the threshold of Heaven; she eats of human flesh; she tastes human blood; she drinks abundantly of the divine kava. At the end of that time, in accordance with the custom of our fathers, those great dead gods, Tu-Kila-Kila performs the high act of sacrifice. He puts on his mask of the face of a shark, for he is holy and cruel; he brings forth the Queen of the Clouds before the eyes of all his people, attired in her wedding robes, and made drunk with kava. Then he gashes her with knives; he offers her up to Heaven that accepted her; and the King of the Rain he offers after her; and all the people eat of their flesh, Korong! and drink of their blood, so that the body of gods and goddesses may dwell within all of them. And when all is done, the high god chooses a new king and queen at his will (for he is a mighty god), who rule for six moons more, and then are offered up, at the end, in like fashion."
As he spoke, the ferocious light that gleamed in the savage's eye made Felix positively mad with anger. But he answered nothing directly. "Is this so?" he asked, turning for confirmation to Fire and Water. "Is it the custom of Boupari that Tu-Kila-Kila should wed the Queen of the Clouds seven days before the date appointed for her sacrifice?"
The King of Fire and the King of Water, tried guardians of the etiquette of Tu-Kila-Kila's court, made answer at once with one accord, "It is so, O King of the Rain. Your lips have said it. Tu-Kila-Kila speaks the solemn truth. He is a very great god. Such is the custom of Boupari."
Tu-Kila-Kila laughed his triumph in harsh, savage outbursts.
But Felix drew back for a second, irresolute. At last he stood face to face with the absolute need for immediate action. Now was almost the moment when he must redeem his terrible promise to Muriel. And yet, even so, there was still one chance of life, one respite left. The mystic yellow bough on the sacred banyan! the Great Taboo! the wager of battle with Tu-Kila-Kila! Quick as lightning it all came up in his excited brain. Time after time, since he heard Methuselah's strange message from the grave, had he passed Tu-Kila-Kila's temple enclosure and looked up with vague awe at that sacred parasite that grew so conspicuously in a fork of the branches. It was easy to secure it, if no man guarded. There still remained one night. In that one short night he must do his best—and worst. If all then failed, he must die himself with Muriel!
For two seconds he hesitated. It was hateful even to temporize with so hideous a proposition. But for Muriel's sake, for her dear life's sake, he must meet these savages with guile for guile. "If it be, indeed, the custom of Boupari," he answered back, with pale and trembling lips, "and if I, one man, am powerless to prevent it, I will give your message, myself, to the Queen of the Clouds, and you may send, as you say, your wedding decorations. But come what will—mark this—you shall not see her yourself to-day. You shall not speak to her. There I draw a line—so, with my stick in the dust, if you try to advance one step beyond, I stab you to the heart. Wait till to-morrow to take your prey. Give me one more night. Great god as you are, if you are wise, you will not drive an angry man to utter desperation."
Tu-Kila-Kila looked with a suspicious side glance at the gleaming steel blade Felix still fingered tremulously. Though Boupari was one of those rare and isolated small islands unvisited as yet by European trade, he had, nevertheless, heard enough of the sailing gods to know that their skill was deep and their weapons very dangerous. It would be foolish to provoke this man to wrath too soon. To-morrow, when taboo was removed, and all was free license, he would come when he willed and take his bride, backed up by the full force of his assembled people. Meanwhile, why provoke a brother god too far? After all, in a little more than a week from now the pale-faced Korong would be eaten and digested!
"Very well," he said, sulkily, but still with the sullen light of revenge gleaming bright in his eye. "Take my message to the queen. You may be my herald. Tell her what honor is in store for her—to be first the wife and then the meat of Tu-Kila-Kila! She is a very fair woman. I like her well. I have longed for her for months. Tomorrow, at the early dawn, by the break of day, I will come with all my people and take her home by main force to me."
He looked at Felix and scowled, an angry scowl of revenge. Then, as he turned and walked away, under cover of the great umbrella, with its dangling pendants on either side, the temple attendants clapped their hands in unison. Fire and Water marched slow and held the umbrella over him. As he disappeared in the distance, and the sound of his tom-toms grew dim on the hills, Toko, the Shadow, who had lain flat, trembling, on his face in the hut while the god was speaking, came out and looked anxiously and fearfully after him.
"The time is ripe," he said, in a very low voice to Felix. "A Korong may strike. All the people of Boupari murmur among themselves. They say this fellow has held the spirit of Tu-Kila-Kila within himself too long. He waxes insolent. They think it is high time the great God of Heaven should find before long some other fleshly tabernacle."
A RASH RESOLVE.
The rest of that day was a time of profound and intense anxiety. Felix and Muriel remained alone in their huts, absorbed in plans of escape, but messengers of many sorts from chiefs and gods kept continually coming to them. The natives evidently regarded it as a period of preparation. The Eyes of Tu-Kila-Kila surrounded their precinct; yet Felix couldn't help noticing that they seemed in many ways less watchful than of old, and that they whispered and conferred very much in a mysterious fashion with the people of the village. More than once Toko shook his head, sagely, "If only any one dared break the Great Taboo," he said, with some terror on his face, "our people would be glad. It would greatly please them. They are tired of this Tu-Kila-Kila. He has held the god in his breast far, far too long. They would willingly see some other in place of him."
Before noon, the young girls of the village, bringing native mats and huge strings of nautilus shells, trooped up to the hut, like bridesmaids, with flowers in their hands, to deck Muriel for her approaching wedding. Before them they carried quantities of red and brown tappa-cloth and very fine net-work, the dowry to be presented by the royal bride to her divine husband. Within the hut, they decked out the Queen of the Clouds with garlands of flowers and necklets of shells, in solemn native fashion, bewailing her fate all the time to a measured dirge in their own language. Muriel could see that their sympathy, though partly conventional, was largely real as well. Many of the young girls seized her hand convulsively from time to time, and kissed it with genuine feeling. The gentle young English woman had won their savage hearts by her purity and innocence. "Poor thing, poor thing," they said, stroking her hand tenderly. "She is too good for Korong! Too good for Tu-Kila-Kila! If only we knew the Great Taboo like the men, we would tell her everything. She is too good to die. We are sorry she is to be sacrificed!"
But when all their preparations were finished, the chief among them raised a calabash with a little scented oil in it, and poured a few drops solemnly on Muriel's head. "Oh, great god!" she said, in her own tongue, "we offer this sacrifice, a goddess herself, to you. We obey your words. You are very holy. We will each of us eat a portion of her flesh at your feast. So give us good crops, strong health, many children!"
"What does she say?" Muriel asked, pale and awestruck, of Mali.
Mali translated the words with perfect sang-froid. At that awful sound Muriel drew back, chill and cold to the marrow. How inconceivable was the state of mind of these terrible people! They were really sorry for her; they kissed her hand with fervor; and yet they deliberately and solemnly proposed to eat her!
Toward evening the young girls at last retired, in regular order, to the clapping of hands, and Felix was left alone with Muriel and the Shadows.
Already he had explained to Muriel what he intended to do; and Muriel, half dazed with terror and paralyzed by these awful preparations, consented passively. "But how if you never come back, Felix?" she cried at last, clinging to him passionately.
Felix looked at her with a fixed look. "I have thought of that," he said. "M. Peyron, to whom I sent a message by flashes, has helped me in my difficulty. This bowl has poison in it. Peyron sent it to me to-day. He prepared it himself from the root of the kava bean. If by sunrise to-morrow you have heard no news, drink it off at once. It will instantly kill you. You shall not fall alive into that creature's clutches."
By slow degrees the evening wore on, and night approached—the last night that remained to them. Felix had decided to make his attempt about one in the morning. The moon was nearly full now, and there would be plenty of light. Supposing he succeeded, if they gained nothing else, they would gain at least a day or two's respite.
As dusk set in, and they sat by the door of the hut, they were all surprised to see Ula approach the precinct stealthily through the jungle, accompanied by two of Tu-Kila-Kila's Eyes, yet apparently on some strange and friendly message. She beckoned imperiously with one finger to Toko to cross the line. The Shadow rose, and without one word of explanation went out to speak to her. The woman gave her message in short, sharp sentences. "We have found out all," she said, breathing hard. "Fire and Water have learned it. But Tu-Kila-Kila himself knows nothing. We have found out that the King of the Rain has discovered the secret of the Great Taboo. He heard it from the Soul of all dead parrots. Tu-Kila-Kila's Eyes saw, and learned, and understood. But they said nothing to Tu-Kila-Kila. For my counsel was wise; I planned that they should not, with Fire and Water. Fire and Water and all the people of Boupari think, with me, the time has come that there should arise among us a new Tu-Kila-Kila. This one let his blood fall out upon the dust of the ground. His luck has gone. We have need of another."
"Then for what have you come?" Toko asked, all awestruck. It was terrible to him for a woman to meddle in such high matters.
"I have come," Ula answered, laying her hand on his arm, and holding her face close to his with profound solemnity—"I have come to say to the King of the Rain, 'Whatever you do, that do quickly.' To-night I will engage to keep Tu-Kila-Kila in his temple. He shall see nothing. He shall hear nothing. I know not the Great Taboo; but I know from him this much—that if by wile or guile I keep him alone in his temple to-night, the King of the Rain may fight with him in single combat; and if the King of the Rain conquers in the battle, he becomes himself the home of the great deity."
She nodded thrice, with her hands on her forehead, and withdrew as stealthily as she had come through the jungle. The Eyes of Tu-Kila-Kila, falling into line, remained behind, and kept watch upon the huts with the closest apparent scrutiny.
More than ever they were hemmed in by mystery on mystery.
The Shadow went back and reported to Felix. Felix, turning it over in his own mind, wondered and debated. Was this true, or a trap to lure him to destruction?
As the night wore on, and the hour drew nigh, Muriel sat beside her friend and lover, in blank despair and agony. How could she ever allow him to leave her now? How could she venture to remain alone with Mali in her hut in this last extremity? It was awful to be so girt with mysterious enemies. "I must go with you, Felix! I must go, too!" she cried over and over again. "I daren't remain behind with all these awful men. And then, if he kills either of us, he will kill us at least both together."
But Felix knew he might do nothing of the sort. A more terrible chance was still in reserve. He might spare Muriel. And against that awful possibility he felt it his duty now to guard at all hazard.
"No, Muriel," he said, kissing her, and holding her pale hand, "I must go alone. You can't come with me. If I return, we will have gained at least a respite, till the Australasian may turn up. If I don't, you will at any rate have strength of mind left to swallow the poison, before Tu-Kila-Kila comes to claim you."
Hour after hour passed by slowly, and Felix and the Shadow watched the stars at the door, to know when the hour for the attempt had arrived. The eyes of Tu-Kila-Kila, peering silent from just beyond the line, saw them watching all the time, but gave no sign or token of disapproval. With heads bent low, and tangled hair about their faces, they stood like statues, watching, watching sullenly. Were they only waiting till he moved, Felix wondered; and would they then hasten off by short routes through the jungle to warn their master of the impending conflict?
At last the hour came when Felix felt sure there was the greatest chance of Tu-Kila-Kila sleeping soundly in his hut, and forgetting the defence of the sacred bough on the holy banyan-tree. He rose from his seat with a gesture for silence, and moved forward to Muriel. The poor girl flung herself, all tears, into his arms. "Oh, Felix, Felix," she cried, "redeem your promise now! Kill us both here together, and then, at least, I shall never be separated from you! It wouldn't be wrong! It can't be wrong! We would surely be forgiven if we did it only to escape falling into the hands of these terrible savages!"
Felix clasped her to his bosom with a faltering heart. "No, Muriel," he said, slowly. "Not yet. Not yet. I must leave no opening on earth untried by which I can possibly or conceivably save you. It's as hard for me to leave you here alone as for you to be left. But for your own dear sake, I must steel myself. I must do it."
He kissed her many times over. He wiped away her tears. Then, with a gentle movement, he untwined her clasping arms. "You must let me go, my own darling," he said, "You must let me go, without crossing the border. If you pass beyond the taboo-line to-night, Heaven only knows what, perhaps, may happen to you. We must give these people no handle of offence. Good-night, Muriel, my own heart's wife; and if I never come back, then good-by forever."
She clung to his arm still. He disentangled himself, gently. The Shadow rose at the same moment, and followed in silence to the open door. Muriel rushed after them, wildly. "Oh, Felix, Felix, come back," she cried, bursting into wild floods of hot, fierce tears. "Come back and let me die with you! Let me die! Let me die with you!"
Felix crossed the white line without one word of reply, and went forth into the night, half unmanned by this effort. Muriel sank, where she stood, into Mali's arms. The girl caught her and supported her. But before she had fainted quite away, Muriel had time vaguely to see and note one significant fact. The Eyes of Tu-Kila-Kila, who stood watching the huts with lynx-like care, nodded twice to Toko, the Shadow, as he passed between them; then they stealthily turned and dogged the two men's footsteps afar off in the jungle.
Muriel was left by herself in the hut, face to face with Mali.
"Let us pray, Mali," she cried, seizing her Shadow's arm.
And Mali, moved suddenly by some half-obliterated impulse, exclaimed in concert, in a terrified voice, "Let us pray to Methodist God in heaven!"
For her life, too, hung on the issue of that rash endeavor.
A STRANGE ALLY.
In Tu-Kila-Kila's temple-hut, meanwhile, the jealous, revengeful god, enshrined among his skeletons, was having in his turn an anxious and doubtful time of it. Ever since his sacred blood had stained the dust of earth by the Frenchman's cottage and in his own temple, Tu-Kila-Kila, for all his bluster, had been deeply stirred and terrified in his inmost soul by that unlucky portent. A savage, even if he be a god, is always superstitious. Could it be that his own time was, indeed, drawing nigh? That he, who had remorselessly killed and eaten so many hundreds of human victims, was himself to fall a prey to some more successful competitor? Had the white-faced stranger, the King of the Rain, really learned the secrets of the Great Taboo from the Soul of all dead parrots? Did that mysterious bird speak the tongue of these new fire-bearing Korongs, whose doom was fixed for the approaching solstice? Tu-Kila-Kila wondered and doubted. His suspicions were keen, and deeply aroused. Late that night he still lurked by the sacred banyan-tree, and when at last he retired to his own inner temple, white with the grinning skulls of the victims he had devoured, it was with strict injunctions to Fire and Water, and to his Eyes that watched there, to bring him word at once of any projected aggression on the part of the stranger.
Within the temple-hut, however, Ula awaited him. That was a pleasant change. The beautiful, supple, satin-skinned Polynesian looked more beautiful and more treacherous than ever that fateful evening. Her great brown limbs, smooth and glossy as pearl, were set off by a narrow girdle or waistband of green and scarlet leaves, twined spirally around her. Armlets of nautilus shell threw up the dainty plumpness of her soft, round forearm. A garland hung festooned across one shapely shoulder; her bosom was bare or but half hidden by the crimson hibiscus that nestled voluptuously upon it. As Tu-Kila-Kila entered, she lifted her large eyes, and, smiling, showed two even rows of pearly white teeth. "My master has come!" she cried, holding up both lissome arms with a gesture to welcome him. "The great god relaxes his care of the world for a while. All goes on well. He leaves his sun to sleep and his stars to shine, and he retires to rest on the unworthy bosom of her, his mate, his meat, that is honored to love him."
Tu-Kila-Kila was scarcely just then in a mood for dalliance. "The Queen of the Clouds comes hither to-morrow," he answered, casting a somewhat contemptuous glance at Ula's more dusky and solid charms. "I go to seek her with the wedding gifts early in the morning. For a week she shall be mine. And after that—" he lifted his tomahawk and brought it down on a huge block of wood significantly.
Ula smiled once more, that deep, treacherous smile of hers, and showed her white teeth even deeper than ever. "If my lord, the great god, rises so early to-morrow," she said, sidling up toward him voluptuously, "to seek one more bride for his sacred temple, all the more reason he should take his rest and sleep soundly to-night. Is he not a god? Are not his limbs tired? Does he not need divine silence and slumber?"
Tu-Kila-Kila pouted. "I could sleep more soundly," he said, with a snort, "if I knew what my enemy, the Korong, is doing. I have set my Eyes to watch him, yet I do not feel secure. They are not to be trusted. I shall be happier far when I have killed and eaten him." He passed his hand across his bosom with a reflective air. You have a great sense of security toward your enemy, no doubt, when you know that he slumbers, well digested, within you.
Ula raised herself on her elbow, and gazed snake-like into his face, "My lord's Eyes are everywhere," she said, reverently, with every mark of respect. "He sees and knows all things. Who can hide anything on earth from his face? Even when he is asleep, his Eyes watch well for him. Then why should the great god, the Measurer of Heaven and Earth, the King of Men, fear a white-faced stranger? To-morrow the Queen of the Clouds will be yours, and the stranger will be abased: ha, ha, he will grieve at it! To-night, Fire and Water keep guard and watch over you. Whoever would hurt you must pass through Fire and Water before he reach your door. Fire would burn, Water would drown. This is a Great Taboo. No stranger dare face it."
Tu-Kila-Kila lifted himself up in his thrasonic mood. "If he did," he cried, swelling himself, "I would shrivel him to ashes with one flash of my eyes. I would scorch him to a cinder with one stroke of my lightning."
Ula smiled again, a well-satisfied smile. She was working her man up. "Tu-Kila-Kila is great," she repeated, slowly. "All earth obeys him. All heaven fears him."
The savage took her hand with a doubtful air. "And yet," he said, toying with it, half irresolute, "when I went to the white-faced stranger's hut this morning, he did not speak fair; he answered me insolently. His words were bold. He talked to me as one talks to a man, not to a great god. Ula, I wonder if he knows my secret?"
Ula started back in well-affected horror. "A white-faced stranger from the sun know your secret, O great king!" she cried, hiding her face in a square of cloth. "See me beat my breast! Impossible! Impossible! No one of your subjects would dare to tell him so great a taboo. It would be rank blasphemy. If they did, your anger would utterly consume them!"
"That is true," Tu-Kila-Kila said, practically, "but I might not discover it. I am a very great god. My Eyes are everywhere. No corner of the world is hid from my gaze. All the concerns of heaven and earth are my care, And, therefore; sometimes, I overlook some detail."
"No man alive would dare to tell the Great Taboo!" Ula repeated, confidently. "Why, even I myself, who am the most favored of your wives, and who am permitted to bask in the light of your presence—even I, Ula—I do not know it. How much less, then, the spirit from the sun, the sailing god, the white-faced stranger!"
Tu-Kila-Kila pursed up his brow and looked preternaturally wise, as the savage loves to do. "But the parrot," he cried, "the Soul of all dead parrots! He knew the secret, they say:—I taught it him myself in an ancient day, many, many years ago—when no man now living was born, save only I—in another incarnation—and he may have told it. For the strangers, they say, speak the language of birds; and in the language of birds did I tell the Great Taboo to him."
Ula pooh-poohed the mighty man-god's fears. "No, no," she cried, with confidence; "he can never have told them. If he had, would not your Eyes that watch ever for all that happens on heaven or earth, have straightway reported it to you? The parrot died without yielding up the tale. Were it otherwise, Toko, who loves and worships you, would surely have told me."