The man-god puckered his brows slightly, as if he liked not the security. "Well, somehow, Ula," he said, feeling her soft brown arms with his divine hand, slowly, "I have always had my doubts since that day the Soul of all dead parrots bit me. A vicious bird! What did he mean by his bite?" He lowered his voice and looked at her fixedly. "Did not his spilling my blood portend," he asked, with a shudder of fear, "that through that ill-omened bird I, who was once Lavita, should cease to be Tu-Kila-Kila?"
Ula smiled contentedly again. To say the truth, that was precisely the interpretation she herself had put on that terrific omen. The parrot had spilled Tu-Kila-Kila's sacred blood upon the soil of earth. According to her simple natural philosophy, that was a certain sign that through the parrot's instrumentality Tu-Kila-Kila's life would be forfeited to the great eternal earth-spirit. Or, rather, the earth-spirit would claim the blood of the man Lavita, in whose body it dwelt, and would itself migrate to some new earthly tabernacle.
But for all that, she dissembled. "Great god," she cried, smiling, a benign smile, "you are tired! You are thirsty! Care for heaven and earth has wearied you out. You feel the fatigue of upholding the sun in heaven. Your arms must ache. Your thews must give under you. Drink of the soul-inspiring juice of the kava! My hands have prepared the divine cup. For Tu-Kila-Kila did I make it—fresh, pure, invigorating!"
She held the bowl to his lips with an enticing smile. Tu-Kila-Kila hesitated and glanced around him suspiciously. "What if the white-faced stranger should come to-night?" he whispered, hoarsely. "He may have discovered the Great Taboo, after all. Who can tell the ways of the world, how they come about? My people are so treacherous. Some traitor may have betrayed it to him."
"Impossible," the beautiful, snake-like woman answered, with a strong gesture of natural dissent. "And even if he came, would not kava, the divine, inspiriting drink of the gods, in which dwell the embodied souls of our fathers—would not kava make you more vigorous, strong for the fight? Would it not course through your limbs like fire? Would it not pour into your soul the divine, abiding strength of your mighty mother, the eternal earth-spirit?"
"A little," Tu-Kila-Kila said, yielding, "but not too much. Too much would stupefy me. When the spirits, that the kava-tree sucks up from the earth, are too strong within us, they overpower our own strength, so that even I, the high god—even I can do nothing."
Ula held the bowl to his lips, and enticed him to drink with her beautiful eyes. "A deep draught, O supporter of the sun in heaven," she cried, pressing his arm tenderly. "Am I not Ula? Did I not brew it for you? Am I not the chief and most favored among your women? I will sit at the door. I will watch all night. I will not close an eye. Not a footfall on the ground but my ear shall hear it."
"Do." Tu-Kila-Kila said, laconically. "I fear Fire and Water. Those gods love me not. Fain would they make me migrate into some other body. But I myself like it not. This one suits me admirably. Ula, that kava is stronger than you are used to make it."
"No, no," Ula cried, pressing it to his lips a second time, passionately. "You are a very great god. You are tired; it overcomes you. And if you sleep, I will watch. Fire and Water dare not disobey your commands. Are you not great? Your Eyes are everywhere. And I, even I, will be as one of them."
The savage gulped down a few more mouthfuls of the intoxicating liquid. Then he glanced up again suddenly with a quick, suspicious look. The cunning of his race gave him wisdom in spite of the deadly strength of the kava Ula had brewed too deep for him. With a sudden resolve, he rose and staggered out. "You are a serpent, woman!" he cried angrily, seeing the smile that lurked upon Ula's face. "To-morrow I will kill you. I will take the white woman for my bride, and she and I will feast off your carrion body. You have tried to betray me, but you are not cunning enough, not strong enough. No woman shall kill me. I am a very great god. I will not yield. I will wait by the tree. This is a trap you have set, but I do not fall into it. If the King of the Rain comes, I shall be there to meet him."
He seized his spear and hatchet and walked forth, erect, without one sign of drunkenness. Ula trembled to herself as she saw him go. She was playing a deep game. Had she given him only just enough kava to strengthen and inspire him?
WAGER OF BATTLE.
Felix wound his way painfully through the deep fern-brake of the jungle, by no regular path, so as to avoid exciting the alarm of the natives, and to take Tu-Kila-Kila's palace-temple from the rear, where the big tree, which overshadowed it with its drooping branches, was most easily approachable. As he and Toko crept on, bending low, through that dense tropical scrub, in deathly silence, they were aware all the time of a low, crackling sound that rang ever some paces in the rear on their trail through the forest. It was Tu-Kila-Kila's Eyes, following them stealthily from afar, footstep for footstep, through the dense undergrowth of bush, and the crisp fallen leaves and twigs that snapped light beneath their footfall. What hope of success with those watchful spies, keen as beagles and cruel as bloodhounds, following ever on their track? What chance of escape for Felix and Muriel, with the cannibal man-gods toils laid round on every side to insure their destruction?
Silently and cautiously the two men groped their way on through the dark gloom of the woods, in spite of their mute pursuers. The moonlight flickered down athwart the trackless soil as they went; the hum of insects innumerable droned deep along the underbrush. Now and then the startled scream of a night jar broke the monotony of the buzz that was worse than silence; owls boomed from the hollow trees, and fireflies darted dim through the open spaces. At last they emerged upon the cleared area of the temple. There Felix, without one moment's hesitation, with a firm and resolute tread, stepped over the white coral line that marked the taboo of the great god's precincts. That was a declaration of open war; he had crossed the Rubicon of Tu-Kila-Kila's empire. Toko stood trembling on the far side; none might pass that mystic line unbidden and live, save the Korong alone who could succeed in breaking off the bough "with yellow leaves, resembling a mistletoe," of which Methuselah, the parrot, had told Felix and Muriel, and so earn the right to fight for his life with the redoubted and redoubtable Tu-Kila-Kila.
As he stepped over the taboo-line, Felix was aware of many native eyes fixed stonily upon him from the surrounding precinct. Clearly they were awaiting him. Yet not a soul gave the alarm; that in itself would have been to break taboo. Every man or woman among the temple attendants within that charmed circle stood on gaze curiously. Close by, Ula, the favorite wife of the man-god, crouched low by the hut, with one finger on her treacherous lips, bending eagerly forward, in silent expectation of what next might happen. Once, and once only, she glanced at Toko with a mute sign of triumph; then she fixed her big eyes on Felix in tremulous anxiety; for to her as to him, life and death now hung absolutely on the issue of his enterprise. A little farther back the King of Fire and the King of Water, in full sacrificial robes, stood smiling sardonically. For them it was merely a question of one master more or less, one Tu-Kila-Kila in place of another. They had no special interest in the upshot of the contest, save in so far as they always hated most the man who for the moment held by his own strong arm the superior godship over them. Around, Tu-Kila-Kila's Eyes kept watch and ward in sinister silence. Taboo was stronger than even the commands of the high god himself. When once a Korong had crossed that fatal line, unbidden and unwelcomed by Tu-Kila-Kila, he came as Tu-Kila-Kila's foe and would-be successor; the duty of every guardian of the temple was then to see fair play between the god that was and the god that might be—the Tu-Kila-Kila of the hour and the Tu-Kila-Kila who might possibly supplant him.
"Let the great spirit itself choose which body it will inhabit," the King of Fire murmured in a soft, low voice, glancing toward a dark spot at the foot of the big tree. The moonlight fell dim through the branches on the place where he looked. The glibbering bones of dead victims rattled lightly in the wind. Felix's eyes followed the King of Fire's, and saw, lying asleep upon the ground, Tu-Kila-Kila himself, with his spear and tomahawk.
He lay there, huddled up by the very roots of the tree, breathing deep and regularly. Right over his head projected the branch, in one part of whose boughs grew the fateful parasite. By the dim light of the moon, straggling through the dense foliage, Felix could see its yellow leaves distinctly. Beneath it hung a skeleton, suspended by invisible cords, head downward from the branches. It was the skeleton of a previous Korong who had tried in vain to reach the bough, and perished. Tu-Kila-Kila had made high feast on the victim's flesh; his bones, now collected together and cunningly fastened with native rope, served at once as a warning and as a trap or pitfall for all who might rashly venture to follow him.
Felix stood for one moment, alone and awe-struck, a solitary civilized man, among those hideous surroundings. Above, the cold moon; all about, the grim, stolid, half-hostile natives; close by, that strange, serpentine, savage wife, guarding, cat-like, the sleep of her cannibal husband; behind, the watchful Eyes of Tu-Kila-Kila, waiting ever in the background, ready to raise a loud shout of alarm and warning the moment the fatal branch was actually broken, but mute, by their vows, till that moment was accomplished. Then a sudden wild impulse urged him on to the attempt. The banyan had dropped down rooting offsets to the ground, after the fashion of its kind, from its main branches. Felix seized one of these and swung himself lightly up, till he reached the very limb on which the sacred parasite itself was growing.
To get to the parasite, however, he must pass directly above Tu-Kila-Kila's head, and over the point where that ghastly grinning skeleton was suspended, as by an unseen hair, from the fork that bore it.
He walked along, balancing himself, and clutching, as he went, at the neighboring boughs, while Tu-Kila-Kila, overcome with the kava, slept stolidly and heavily on beneath him. At last he was almost within grasp of the parasite. Could he lunge out and clutch it? One try—one effort! No, no; he almost lost footing and fell over in the attempt. He couldn't keep his balance so. He must try farther on. Come what might, he must go past the skeleton.
The grisly mass swung again, clanking its bones as it swung, and groaned in the wind ominously. The breeze whistled audibly through its hollow skull and vacant eye-sockets. Tu-Kila-Kila turned uneasily in his sleep below. Felix saw there was not one instant of time to be lost now. He passed on boldly; and as he passed, a dozen thin cords of paper mulberry, stretched every way in an invisible network among the boughs, too small to be seen in the dim moonlight, caught him with their toils and almost overthrew him. They broke with his weight, and Felix himself, tumbling blindly, fell forward. At the cost of a sprained wrist and a great jerk on his bruised fingers, he caught at a bough by his side, but wrenched it away suddenly. It was touch and go. At the very same moment, the skeleton fell heavily, and rattled on the ground beside Tu-Kila-Kila.
Before Felix could discover what had actually happened, a very great shout went up all round below, and made him stagger with excitement. Tu-Kila-Kila was awake, and had started up, all intent, mad with wrath and kava. Glaring about him wildly, and brandishing his great spear in his stalwart hands, he screamed aloud, in a perfect frenzy of passion and despair: "Where is he, the Korong? Bring him on, my meat! Let me devour his heart! Let me tear him to pieces. Let me drink of his blood! Let me kill him and eat him!"
Sick and desperate at the accident, Felix, in turn, clinging hard to his bough with one hand, gazed wildly about him to look for the parasite. But it had gone as if by magic. He glanced around in despair, vaguely conscious that nothing was left for it now but to drop to the ground and let himself be killed at leisure by that frantic savage. Yet even as he did so, he was aware of that great cry—a cry as of triumph—still rending the air. Fire and Water had rushed forward, and were holding back Tu-Kila-Kila, now black in the face from rage, with all their might. Ula was smiling a malicious joy. The Eyes were all agog with interest and excitement. And from one and all that wild scream rose unanimous to the startled sky: "He has it! He has it! The Soul of the Tree! The Spirit of the World! The great god's abode. Hold off your hands, Lavita, son of Sami! Your trial has come. He has it! He has it!"
Felix looked about him with a whirling brain. His eye fell suddenly. There, in his own hand, lay the fateful bough. In his efforts to steady himself, he had clutched at it by pure accident, and broken it off unawares with the force of his clutching. As fortune would have it, he grasped it still. His senses reeled. He was almost dead with excitement, suspense, and uncertainty, mingled with pain of his wrenched wrist. But for Muriel's sake he pulled himself together. Gazing down and trying hard to take it all in—that strange savage scene—he saw that Tu-Kila-Kila was making frantic attempts to lunge at him with the spear, while the King of Fire and the King of Water, stern and relentless, were holding him off by main force, and striving their best to appease and quiet him.
There was an awful pause. Then a voice broke the stillness from beyond the taboo-line:
"The Shadow of the King of the Rain speaks," it said, in very solemn, conventional accents. "Korong! Korong! The Great Taboo is broken. Fire and Water, hold him in whom dwells the god till my master comes. He has the Soul of all the spirits of the wood in his hands. He will fight for his right. Taboo! Taboo! I, Toko, have said it."
He clapped his hands thrice.
Tu-Kila-Kila made a wild effort to break away once more. But the King of Fire, standing opposite him, spoke still louder and clearer. "If you touch the Korong before the line is drawn," he said, with a voice of authority, "you are no Tu-Kila-Kila, but an outcast and a criminal. All the people will hold you with forked sticks, while the Korong burns you alive slowly, limb by limb, with me, who am Fire, the fierce, the consuming. I will scorch you and bake you till you are as a bamboo in the flame. Taboo! Taboo! Taboo! I, Fire, have said it."
The King of Water, with three attendants, forced Tu-Kila-Kila on one side for a moment. Ula stood by and smiled pleased compliance. A temple slave, trembling all over at this conflict of the gods, brought out a calabash full of white coral-sand. The King of Water spat on it and blessed it. By this time a dozen natives, at least, had assembled outside the taboo-line, and stood eagerly watching the result of the combat. The temple slave made a long white mark with the coral-sand on one side of the cleared area. Then he handed the calabash solemnly to Toko. Toko crossed the sacred precinct with a few inaudible words of muttered charm, to save the Taboo, as prescribed in the mysteries. Then he drew a similar line on the ground on his side, some twenty yards off. "Descend, O my lord!" he cried to Felix; and Felix, still holding the bough tight in his hand, swung himself blindly from the tree, and took his place by Toko.
"Toe the line!" Toko cried, and Felix toed it.
"Bring up your god!" the Shadow called out aloud to the King of Water. And the King of Water, using no special ceremony with so great a duty, dragged Tu-Kila-Kila helplessly along with him to the farther taboo-line.
The King of Water brought a spear and tomahawk. He handed them to Felix. "With these weapons," he said, "fight, and merit heaven. I hold the bough meanwhile—the victor takes it."
The King of Fire stood out between the lists. "Korongs and gods," he said, "the King of the Rain has plucked the sacred bough, according to our fathers' rites, and claims trial which of you two shall henceforth hold the sacred soul of the world, the great Tu-Kila-Kila. Wager of Battle decides the day. Keep toe to line. At the end of my words, forth, forward, and fight for it. The great god knows his own, and will choose his abode. Taboo, Taboo, Taboo! I, Fire, have spoken it."
Scarcely were the words well out of his mouth, when, with a wild whoop of rage, Tu-Kila-Kila, who had the advantage of knowing the rules of the game, so to speak, dashed madly forward, drunk with passion and kava, and gave one lunge with his spear full tilt at the breast of the startled and unprepared white man. His aim, though frantic, was not at fault. The spear struck Felix high up on the left side. He felt a dull thud of pain; a faint gurgle of blood. Even in the pale moonlight his eye told him at once a red stream was trickling—out over his flannel shirt. He was pricked, at least. The great god had wounded him.
The great god had wounded him. But not to the heart. Felix, as good luck would have it, happened to be wearing buckled braces. He had worn them on board, and, like the rest of his costume, had, of course, never since been able to discard them. They stood him in good stead now. The buckle caught the very point of the bone-tipped spear, and broke the force of the blow, as the great god lunged forward. The wound was but a graze, and Tu-Kila-Kila's light shaft snapped short in the middle.
Madder and wilder than ever, the savage pitched it away, yelling, rushed forward with a fierce curse on his angry tongue, and flung himself, tooth and nail, on his astonished opponent.
The suddenness of the onslaught almost took the Englishman's breath away. By this time, however, Felix had pulled together his ideas and taken in the situation. Tu-Kila-Kila was attacking him now with his heavy stone axe. He must parry those deadly blows. He must be alert, but watchful. He must put himself in a posture of defence at once. Above all, he must keep cool and have his wits about him.
If he could but have drawn his knife, he would have stood a better chance in that hand-to-hand conflict. But there was no time now for such tactics as those. Besides, even in close fight with a bloodthirsty savage, an English gentleman's sense of fair play never for one moment deserts him. Felix felt, if they were to fight it out face to face for their lives, they should fight at least on a perfect equality. Steel against stone was a mean advantage. Parrying Tu-Kila-Kila's first desperate blow with the haft of his own hatchet, he leaped aside half a second to gain breath and strength. Then he rushed on, and dealt one deadly downstroke with the ponderous weapon.
For a minute or two they closed, in perfectly savage single combat. Fire and Water, observant and impartial, stood by like seconds to see the god himself decide the issue, which of the two combatants should be his living representative. The contest was brief but very hard-fought. Tu-Kila-Kila, inspired with the last frenzy of despair, rushed wildly on his opponent with hands and fists, and teeth and nails, dealing his blows in blind fury, right and left, and seeking only to sell his life as dearly as possible. In this last extremity, his very superstitions told against him. Everything seemed to show his hour had come. The parrot's bite—the omen of his own blood that stained the dust of earth—Ula's treachery—the chance by which the Korong had learned the Great Taboo—Felix's accidental or providential success in breaking off the bough—the length of time he himself had held the divine honors—the probability that the god would by this time begin to prefer a new and stronger representative—all these things alike combined to fire the drunk and maddened savage with the energy of despair. He fell upon his enemy like a tiger upon an elephant. He fought with his tomahawk and his feet and his whole lithe body; he foamed at the mouth with impotent rage; he spent his force on the air in the extremity of his passion.
Felix, on the other hand, sobered by pain, and nerved by the fixed consciousness that Muriel's safety now depended absolutely on his perfect coolness, fought with the calm skill of a practised fencer. Happily he had learned the gentle art of thrust and parry years before in England; and though both weapon and opponent were here so different, the lesson of quickness and calm watchfulness he had gained in that civilized school stood him in good stead, even now, under such adverse circumstances. Tu-Kila-Kila, getting spent, drew back for a second at last, and panted for breath. That faint breathing-space of a moment's duration sealed his fate. Seizing his chance with consummate skill, Felix closed upon the breathless monster, and brought down the heavy stone hammer point blank upon the centre of his crashing skull. The weapon drove home. It cleft a great red gash in the cannibal's head. Tu-Kila-Kila reeled and fell. There was an infinitesimal pause of silence and suspense. Then a great shout went up from all round to heaven, "He has killed him! He has killed him! We have a new-made god! Tu-Kila-Kila is dead! Long live Tu-Kila-Kila!"
Felix drew back for a moment, panting and breathless, and wiped his wet brow with his sleeve, his brain all whirling. At his feet, the savage lay stretched, like a log. Felix gazed at the blood-bespattered face remorsefully. It is an awful thing, even in a just quarrel, to feel that you have really taken a human life! The responsibility is enough to appall the bravest of us. He stooped down and examined the prostrate body with solemn reverence. Blood was flowing in torrents from the wounded head. But Tu-Kila-Kila was dead—stone-dead forever.
Hot tears of relief welled up into Felix's eyes. He touched the body cautiously with a reverent hand. No life. No motion.
Just as he did so, the woman Ula came forward, bare-limbed and beautiful, all triumph in her walk, a proud, insensitive savage. One second she gazed at the great corpse disdainfully. Then she lifted her dainty foot, and gave it a contemptuous kick. "The body of Lavita, the son of Sami," she said, with a gesture of hatred. "He had a bad heart. We will cook it and eat it." Next turning to Felix, "Oh, Tu-Kila-Kila," she cried, clapping her hands three times and bowing low to the ground, "you are a very great god. We will serve you and salute you. Am not I, Ula, one of your wives, your meat? Do with me as you will. Toko, you are henceforth the great god's Shadow!"
Felix gazed at the beautiful, heartless creature, all horrified. Even on Boupari, that cannibal island, he was hardly prepared for quite so low a depth of savage insensibility. But all the people around, now a hundred or more, standing naked before their new god, took up the shout in concert. "The body of Lavita, the son of Sami," they cried. "A carrion corpse! The god has deserted it. The great soul of the world has entered the heart of the white-faced stranger from the disk of the sun; the King of the Rain; the great Tu-Kila-Kila. We will cook and eat the body of Lavita, the son of Sami. He was a bad man. He is a worn-out shell. Nothing remains of him now. The great god has left him."
They clapped their hands in a set measure as they recited this hymn. The King of Fire retreated into the temple. Ula stood by, and whispered low with Toko. There was a ceremonial pause of some fifteen minutes. Presently, from the inner recesses of the temple itself, a low noise issued forth as of a rising wind. For some seconds it buzzed and hummed, droningly. But at the very first note of that holy sound Ula dropped her lover's hand, as one drops a red-hot coal, and darted wildly off at full speed, like some frightened wild beast, into the thick jungle. Every other woman near began to rush away with equally instantaneous signs of haste and fear. The men, on the other hand, erect and naked, with their hands on their foreheads, crossed the taboo-line at once. It was the summons to all who had been initiated at the mysteries—the sacred bull-roarer was calling the assembly of the men of Boupari.
For several minutes it buzzed and droned, that mystic implement, growing louder and louder, till it roared like thunder. One after another, the men of the island rushed in as if mad or in flight for their lives before some fierce beast pursuing them. They ran up, panting, and dripping with sweat; their hands clapped to their foreheads; their eyes starting wildly from their staring sockets; torn and bleeding and lacerated by the thorns and branches of the jungle, for each man ran straight across country from the spot where he lay asleep, in the direction of the sound, and never paused or drew breath, for dear life's sake, till he stood beside the corpse of the dead Tu-Kila-Kila.
And every moment the cry pealed louder and louder still. "Lavita, the son of Sami, is dead, praise Heaven! The King of the Rain has slain him, and is now the true Tu-Kila-Kila!"
Felix bent irresolute over the fallen savage's bloodstained corpse. What next was expected of him he hardly knew or cared. His one desire now was to return to Muriel—to Muriel, whom he had rescued from something worse than death at the hateful hands of that accursed creature who lay breathless forever on the ground beside him.
Somebody came up just then, and seized his hand warmly. Felix looked up with a start. It was their friend, the Frenchman. "Ah, my captain, you have done well," M. Peyron cried, admiring him. "What courage! What coolness! What pluck! What soldiership! I couldn't see all. But I was in at the death! And oh, mon Dieu, how I admired and envied you!"
By this time the bull-roarer had ceased to bellow among the rocks. The King of Fire stood forth. In his hands he held a length of bamboo-stick with a lighted coal in it. "Bring wood and palm-leaves," he said, in a tone of command. "Let me light myself up, that I may blaze before Tu-Kila-Kila."
He turned and bowed thrice very low before Felix. "The accepted of Heaven," he cried, holding his hands above him. "The very high god! The King of all Things! He sends down his showers upon our crops and our fields. He causes his sun to shine brightly over us. He makes our pigs and our slaves bring forth their increase. All we are but his meat. We, his people, praise him."
And all the men of Boupari, naked and bleeding, bent low in response. "Tu-Kila-Kila is great," they chanted, as they clapped their hands. "We thank him that he has chosen a fresh incarnation. The sun will not fade in the heavens overhead, nor the bread-fruits wither and cease to bear fruit on earth. Tu-Kila-Kila, our god, is great. He springs ever young and fresh, like the herbs of the field. He is a most high god. We, his people, praise him."
Four temple attendants brought sticks and leaves, while Felix stood still, half dazed with the newness of these strange preparations. The King of Fire, with his torch, set light to the pile. It blazed merrily on high. "I, Fire, salute you," he cried, bending over it toward Felix.
"Now cut up the body of Lavita, the son of Sami," he went on, turning toward it contemptuously. "I will cook it in my flame, that Tu-Kila-Kila the great may eat of it."
Felix drew back with a face all aglow with horror and disgust. "Don't touch that body!" he cried, authoritatively, putting his foot down firm. "Leave it alone at once. I refuse to allow you." Then he turned to M. Peyron. "The King of the Birds and I," he said, with calm resolve, "we two will bury it."
The King of Fire drew back at these strange words, nonplussed. This was, indeed, an ill-omened break in the ceremony of initiation of a new Tu-Kila-Kila, to which he had never before in his life been accustomed. He hardly knew how to comport himself under such singular circumstances. It was as though the sovereign of England, on coronation-day, should refuse to be crowned, and intimate to the archbishop, in his full canonicals, a confirmed preference for the republican form of Government. It was a contingency that law and custom in Boupari had neither, in their wisdom, foreseen nor provided for.
The King of Water whispered low in the new god's ear. "You must eat of his body, my lord," he said. "That is absolutely necessary. Every one of us must eat of the flesh of the god; but you, above all, must eat his heart, his divine nature. Otherwise you can never be full Tu-Kila-Kila."
"I don't care a straw for that," Felix cried, now aroused to a full sense of the break in Methuselah's story and trembling with apprehension. "You may kill me if you like; we can die only once; but human flesh I can never taste; nor will I, while I live, allow you to touch this dead man's body. We will bury it ourselves, the King of the Birds and I. You may tell your people so. That is my last word." He raised his voice to the customary ceremonial pitch. "I, the new Tu-Kila-Kila," he said, "have spoken it."
The King of Fire and the King of Water, taken aback at his boldness, conferred together for some seconds privately. The people meanwhile looked on and wondered. What could this strange hitch in the divine proceedings mean? Was the god himself recalcitrant? Never in their lives had the oldest men among them known anything like it.
And as they whispered and debated, awe-struck but discordant, a shout arose once more from the outer circle—a mighty shout of mingled surprise, alarm, and terror. "Taboo! Taboo! Fence the mysteries. Beware! Oh, great god, we warn you. The mysteries are in danger! Cut her down! Kill her! A woman! A woman!"
At the words, Felix was aware of somebody bursting through the dense crowd and rushing wildly toward him. Next moment, Muriel hung and sobbed on his shoulder, while Mali, just behind her, stood crying and moaning.
Felix held the poor startled girl in his arms and soothed her. And all around another great cry arose from five hundred lips: "Two women have profaned the mysteries of the god. They are Tu-Kila-Kila's trespass-offering. Let us kill them and eat them!"
In a moment, Felix's mind was fully made up. There was no time to think; it was the hour for action. He saw how he must comport himself toward this strange wild people. Seating Muriel gently on the ground, Mali beside her, and stepping forward himself, with Peyron's hand in his, he beckoned to the vast and surging crowd to bespeak respectful silence.
A mighty hush fell at once upon the people. The King of Fire and the King of Water stood back, obedient to his nod. They waited for the upshot of this strange new development.
"Men of Boupari," Felix began, speaking with a marvellous fluency in their own tongue, for the excitement itself supplied him with eloquence; "I have killed your late god in the prescribed way; I have plucked the sacred bough, and fought in single combat by the established rules of your own religion. Fire and Water, you guardians of this holy island, is it not so? You saw all things done, did you not, after the precepts of your ancestors?"
The King of Fire bowed low and answered: "Tu-Kila-Kila speaks, indeed, the truth. Water and I, with our own eyes, have seen it."
"And now," Felix went on, "I am myself, by your own laws, Tu-Kila-Kila."
The King of Fire made a gesture of dissent. "Oh, great god, pardon me," he murmured, "if I say aught, now, to contradict you; but you are not a full Tu-Kila-Kila yet till you have eaten of the heart of the god, your predecessor."
"Then where is now the spirit of Tu-Kila-Kila, the very high god, if I am not he?" Felix asked, abruptly, thus puzzling them with a hard problem in their own savage theology.
The King of Fire gave a start, and pondered. This was a detail of his creed that had never before so much as occurred to him. All faiths have their cruces. "I do not well know," he answered, "whether it is in the heart of Lavita, the son of Sami, or in your own body. But I feel sure it must now be certainly somewhere, though just where our fathers have never told us."
Felix recognized at once that he had gained a point. "Then look to it well," he said, austerely. "Be careful how you act. Do nothing rash. For either the soul of the god is in the heart of Lavita, the son of Sami; and then, since I refuse to eat it, it will decay away, as Lavita's body decays, and the world will shrivel up, and all things will perish, because the god is dead and crumbled to dust forever. Or else it is in my body, who am god in his place; and then, if anybody does me harm or hurt, he will be an impious wretch, and will have broken taboo, and Heaven knows what evils and misfortunes may not, therefore, fall on each and all of you."
A very old chief rose from the ranks outside. His hair was white and his eyes bleared. "Tu-Kila-Kila speaks well," he cried, in a loud but mumbling voice. "His words are wise. He argues to the point. He is very cunning. I advise you, my people, to be careful how you anger the white-faced stranger, for you know what he is; he is cruel; he is powerful. There was never any storm in my time—and I am an old man—so great in Boupari as the storm that rose when the King of the Rain ate the storm-apple. Our yams and our taros even now are suffering from it. He is a mighty strong god. Beware how you tamper with him!"
He sat down, trembling. A younger chief rose from a nearer rank, and said his say in turn. "I do not agree with our father," he cried, pointing to the chief who had just spoken. "His word is evil; he is much mistaken. I have another thought. My thought is this. Let us kill and eat the white-faced stranger at once, by wager of battle; and let whosoever fights and overcomes him receive his honors, and take to wife the fair woman, the Queen of the Clouds, the sun-faced Korong, whom he brought from the sun with him."
"But who will then be Tu-Kila-Kila?" Felix asked, turning round upon him quickly. Habituation to danger had made him unnaturally alert in such utmost extremities.
"Why, the man who slays you," the young chief answered, pointedly, grasping his heavy tomahawk with profound expression.
"I think not," Felix answered. "Your reasoning is bad. For if I am not Tu-Kila-Kila, how can any man become Tu-Kila-Kila by killing me? And if I am Tu-Kila-Kila, how dare you, not being yourself Korong, and not having broken off the sacred bough, as I did, venture to attack me? You wish to set aside all the customs of Boupari. Are you not ashamed of such gross impiety?"
"Tu-Kila-Kila speaks well," the King of Fire put in, for he had no cause to love the aggressive young chief, and he thought better of his chances in life as Felix's minister. "Besides, now I think of it, he must be Tu-Kila-Kila, because he has taken the life of the last great god, whom he slew with his hands; and therefore the life is now his—he holds it."
Felix was emboldened by this favorable opinion to strike out a fresh line in a further direction. He stood forward once more, and beckoned again for silence. "Yes, my people," he said calmly, with slow articulation, "by the custom of your race and the creed you profess I am now indeed, and in every truth, the abode of your great god, Tu-Kila-Kila. But, furthermore, I have a new revelation to make to you. I am going to instruct you in a fresh way. This creed that you hold is full of errors. As Tu-Kila-Kila, I mean to take my own course, no islander hindering me. If you try to depose me, what great gods have you now got left? None, save only Fire and Water, my ministers. King of the Rain there is none; for I, who was he, am now Tu-Kila-Kila. Tu-Kila-Kila there is none, save only me; for the other, that was, I have fought and conquered. The Queen of the Clouds is with me. The King of the Birds is with me. Consider, then, O friends, that if you kill us all, you will have nowhere to turn; you will be left quite godless."
"It is true," the people murmured, looking about them, half puzzled. "He is wise. He speaks well. He is indeed a Tu-Kila-Kila."
Felix pressed his advantage home at once. "Now listen," he said, lifting up one solemn forefinger. "I come from a country very far away, where the customs are better by many yams than those of Boupari. And now that I am indeed Tu-Kila-Kila—your god, your master—I will change and alter some of your customs that seem to me here and now most undesirable. In the first place—hear this!—I will put down all cannibalism. No man shall eat of human flesh on pain of death. And to begin with, no man shall cook or eat the body of Lavita, the son of Sami. On that I am determined—I, Tu-Kila-Kila. The King of the Birds and I, we will dig a pit, and we will bury in it the corpse of this man that was once your god, and whom his own wickedness compelled me to fight and slay, in order to prevent more cruelty and bloodshed."
The young chief stood up, all red in his wrath, and interrupted him, brandishing a coral-stone hatchet. "This is blasphemy," he said. "This is sheer rank blasphemy. These are not good words. They are very bad medicine. The white-faced Korong is no true Tu-Kila-Kila. His advice is evil—and ill-luck would follow it. He wishes to change the sacred customs of Boupari. Now, that is not well. My counsel is this: let us eat him now, unless he changes his heart, and amends his ways, and partakes, as is right, of the body of Lavita, the son of Sami."
The assembly swayed visibly, this way and that, some inclining to the conservative view of the rash young chief, and others to the cautious liberalism of the gray-haired warrior. Felix noted their division, and spoke once more, this time still more authoritatively than ever.
"Furthermore," he said, "my people, hear me. As I came in a ship propelled by fire over the high waves of the sea, so I go away in one. We watch for such a ship to pass by Boupari. When it comes, the Queen of the Clouds—upon whose life I place a great Taboo; let no man dare to touch her at his peril; if he does, I will rush upon him and kill him as I killed Lavita, the son of Sami. When it comes, the Queen of the Clouds, the King of the Birds, and I, we will go away back in it to the land whence we came, and be quit of Boupari. But we will not leave it fireless or godless. When I return back home again to my own far land, I will send out messengers, very good men, who will tell you of a God more powerful by much than any you ever knew, and very righteous. They will teach you great things you never dreamed of. Therefore, I ask you now to disperse to your own homes, while the King of Birds and I bury the body of Lavita, the son of Sami."
All this time Muriel had been seated on the ground, listening with profound interest, but scarcely understanding a word, though here and there, after her six months' stay in the island, a single phrase was dimly intelligible to her. But now, at this critical moment she rose, and, standing upright by Felix's side in her spotless English purity among those assembled savages, she pointed just once with her uplifted finger to the calm vault of heaven, and then across the moonlit horizon of the sea, and last of all to the clustering huts and villages of Boupari. "Tell them," she said to Felix, with blanched lips, but without one sign of a tremor in her fearless voice, "I will pray for them to Heaven, when I go across the sea, and will think of the children that I loved to pat and play with, and will send out messengers from our home beyond the waves, to make them wiser and happier and better."
Felix translated her simple message to them in its pure womanly goodness. Even the natives were touched. They whispered and hesitated. Then after a time of much murmured debate, the King of Fire stood forward as a mediator. "There is an oracle, O Korong," he said, "not to prejudge the matter, which decides all these things—a great conch-shell at a sacred grove in the neighboring island of Aloa Mauna. It is the holiest oracle of all our holy religion. We gods and men of Boupari have taken counsel together, and have come to a conclusion. We will put forth a canoe and send men with blood on their faces to inquire at Aloa Mauna of the very great oracle. Till then, you are neither Tu-Kila-Kila, nor not Tu-Kila-Kila. It behooves us to be very careful how we deal with gods. Our people will stand round your precinct in a row, and guard you with their spears. You shall not cross the taboo line to them, nor they to you: all shall be neutral. Food shall be laid by the line, as always, morn, noon, and night; and your Shadows shall take it in; but you shall not come out. Neither shall you bury the body of Lavita, the son of Sami. Till the canoe comes back it shall lie in the sun and rot there."
He clapped his hands twice.
In a moment a tom-tom began to beat from behind, and the people all crowded without the circle. The King of Fire came forward ostentatiously and made taboo. "If, any man cross this line," he said in a droning sing-song, "till the canoe return from the great oracle of our faith on Aloa Mauna, I, Fire, will scorch him into cinder and ashes. If any woman transgress, I will pitch her with palm oil, and light her up for a lamp on a moonless night to lighten this temple."
The King of Water distributed shark's-tooth spears. At once a great serried wall hemmed in the Europeans all round, and they sat down to wait, the three whites together, for the upshot of the mission to Aloa Mauna.
And the dawn now gleamed red on the eastern horizon.
AT SEA: OFF BOUPARI.
Thirteen days out from Sydney, the good ship Australasian was nearing the equator.
It was four of the clock in the afternoon, and the captain (off duty) paced the deck, puffing a cigar, and talking idly with a passenger on former experiences.
Eight bells went on the quarter-deck; time to change watches.
"This is only our second trip through this channel," the captain said, gazing across with a casual glance at the palm-trees that stood dark against the blue horizon. "We used to go a hundred miles to eastward, here, to avoid the reefs. But last voyage I came through this way quite safely—though we had a nasty accident on the road—unavoidable—unavoidable! Big sea was running free over the sunken shoals; caught the ship aft unawares, and stove in better than half a dozen portholes. Lady passenger on deck happened to be leaning over the weather gunwale; big sea caught her up on its crest in a jiffy, lifted her like a baby, and laid her down again gently, just so, on the bed of the ocean. By George, sir, I was annoyed. It was quite a romance, poor thing; quite a romance; we all felt so put out about it the rest of that voyage. Young fellow on board, nephew of Sir Theodore Thurstan, of the Colonial Office, was in love with Miss Ellis—girl's name was Ellis—father's a parson somewhere down in Somersetshire—and as soon as the big sea took her up on its crest, what does Thurstan go and do, but he ups on the taffrail, and, before you could say Jack Robinson, jumps over to save her."
"But he didn't succeed?" the passenger asked, with languid interest.
"Succeed, my dear sir? and with a sea running twelve feet high like that? Why, it was pitch dark, and such a surf on that the gig could hardly go through it." The captain smiled, and puffed away pensively. "Drowned," he said, after a brief pause, with complacent composure. "Drowned. Drowned. Drowned. Went to the bottom, both of 'em. Davy Jones's locker. But unavoidable, quite. These accidents will happen, even on the best-regulated liners. Why, there was my brother Tom, in the Cunard service—same that boast they never lost a passenger; there was my brother Tom, he was out one day off the Newfoundland banks, heavy swell setting in from the nor'-nor'-east, icebergs ahead, passengers battened down—Bless my soul, how that light seems to come and go, don't it?"
It was a reflected light, flashing from the island straight in the captain's eyes, small and insignificant as to size, but strong for all that in the full tropical sunshine, and glittering like a diamond from a vague elevation near the centre of the island.
"Seems to come and go in regular order," the passenger observed, reflectively, withdrawing his cigar. "Looks for all the world just like naval signalling."
The captain paused, and shaded his eyes a moment. "Hanged if that isn't just what it is," he answered, slowly. "It's a rigged-up heliograph, and they're using the Morse code; dash my eyes if they aren't. Well, this is civilization! What the dickens can have come to the island of Boupari? There isn't a darned European soul in the place, nor ever has been. Anchorage unsafe; no harbor; bad reef; too small for missionaries to make a living, and natives got nothing worth speaking of to trade in."
"What do they say?" the passenger asked, with suddenly quickened interest.
"How the devil should I tell you yet, sir?" the captain retorted with choleric grumpiness. "Don't you see I'm spelling it out, letter by letter? O, r, e, s, c, u, e, u, s, c, o, m, e, w, e, l, l, a, r, m, e, d—Yes. yes, I twig it." And the captain jotted it down in his note-book for some seconds, silently.
"Run up the flag there," he shouted, a moment later, rushing hastily forward. "Stop her at once, Walker. Easy, easy. Get ready the gig. Well, upon my soul, there is a rum start anyway."
"What does the message say?" the passenger inquired, with intense surprise.
"Say? Well, there's what I make it out," the captain answered, handing him the scrap of paper on which he had jotted down the letters. "I missed the beginning, but the end's all right. Look alive there, boys, will you. Bring out the Winchester. Take cutlasses, all hands. I'll go along myself in her."
The passenger took the piece of paper on which he read, "and send a boat to rescue us. Come well armed. Savages on guard. Thurstan, Ellis."
In less than three minutes the boat was lowered and manned, and the captain, with the Winchester six-shooter by his side, seated grim in the stern, took command of the tiller.
On the island it was the first day of Felix and Muriel's imprisonment in the dusty precinct of Tu-Kila-Kila's temple. All the morning through, they had sat under the shade of a smaller banyan in the outer corner; for Muriel could neither enter the noisome hut nor go near the great tree with the skeletons on its branches; nor could she sit where the dead savage's body, still festering in the sun, attracted the buzzing blue flies by thousands, to drink up the blood that lay thick on the earth in a pool around it. Hard by, the natives sat, keen as lynxes, in a great circle just outside the white taboo-line, where, with serried spears, they kept watch and ward over the persons of their doubtful gods or victims. M. Peyron, alone preserving his equanimity under these adverse circumstances, hummed low to himself in very dubious tones; even he felt his French gayety had somewhat forsaken him; this revolution in Boupari failed to excite his Parisian ardor.
About one o'clock in the day, however, looking casually seaward—what was this that M. Peyron, to his great surprise, descried far away on the dim southern horizon? A low black line, lying close to the water? No, no; not a steamer!
Too prudent to excite the natives' attention unnecessarily, the cautious Frenchman whispered, in the most commonplace voice on earth to Felix: "Don't look at once; and when you do look, mind you don't exhibit any agitation in your tone or manner. But what do you make that out to be—that long black haze on the horizon to southward?"
Felix looked, disregarding the friendly injunction, at once. At the same moment, Muriel turned her eyes quickly in the self-same direction. Neither made the faintest sign of outer emotion; but Muriel clenched her white hands hard, till the nails dug into the palm, in her effort to restrain herself, as she murmured very low, in an agitated voice, "Un vapeur, un vapeur!"
"So I think," M. Peyron answered, very low and calm. "It is, indeed, a steamer!"
For three long hours those anxious souls waited and watched it draw nearer and nearer. Slowly the natives, too, began to perceive the unaccustomed object. As it drew abreast of the island, and the decisive moment arrived for prompt action, Felix rose in his place once more and cried aloud, "My people, I told you a ship, propelled by fire, would come from the far land across the sea to take us. The ship has come; you can see for yourselves the thick black smoke that issues in huge puffs from the mouth of the monster. Now, listen to me, and dare not to disobey me. My word is law; let all men see to it. I am going to send a message of fire from the sun to the great canoe that walks upon the water. If any man ventures to stop me from doing it the people from the great canoe will land on this isle and take vengeance for his act, and kill with the thunder which the sailing gods carry ever about with them."
By this time the island was alive with commotion. Hundreds of natives, with their long hair falling unkempt about their keen brown faces, were gazing with open eyes at the big black ship that ploughed her way so fast against wind and tide over the surface of the waters. Some of them shouted and gesticulated with panic fear; others seemed half inclined to waste no time on preparation or doubt, but to rush on at once, and immolate their captives before a rescue was possible. But Felix, keeping ever his cool head undisturbed, stood on the dusty mound by Tu-Kila-Kila's house, and taking in his hand the little mirror he had made from the match-box, flashed the light from the sun full in their eyes for a moment, to the astonishment and discomfiture of all those gaping savages. Then he focussed it on the Australasian, across the surf and the waves, and with a throbbing heart began to make his last faint bid for life and freedom.
For four or five minutes he went flashing on, uncertain of the effect, whether they saw or saw not. Then a cry from Muriel burst at once upon his ears. She clasped her hands convulsively in an agony of joy. "They see us! They see us!"
And sure enough, scarcely half a minute later, a British flag ran gayly up the mainmast, and a boat seemed to drop down over the side of the vessel.
As for the natives, they watched these proceedings with considerable surprise and no little discomfiture—Fire and Water, in particular, whispering together, much alarmed, with many superstitious nods and taboos, in the corner of the enclosure.
Gradually, as the boat drew nearer and nearer, divided counsels prevailed among the savages. With no certainly recognized Tu-Kila-Kila to marshal their movements, each man stood in doubt from whom to take his orders. At last, the King of Fire, in a hesitating voice, gave the word of command. "Half the warriors to the shore to repel the enemy; half to watch round the taboo-line, lest the Korongs escape us! Let Breathless Fear, our war-god, go before the face of our troops, invisible!"
And, quick as thought, at his word, the warriors had paired off, two and two, in long lines; some running hastily down to the beach, to man the war-canoes, while others remained, with shark's tooth spears still set in a looser circle, round the great temple-enclosure of Tu-Kila-Kila.
For Muriel, this suspense was positively terrible. To feel one was so close to the hope of rescue, and yet to know that before that help arrived, or even as it came up, those savages might any moment run their ghastly spears through them.
But Felix made the best of his position still. "Remember," he cried, at the top of his voice, as the warriors started at a run for the water's edge, "your Tu-Kila-Kila tells you, these new-comers are his friends. Whoever hurts them, does so at his peril. This is a great Taboo. I bid you receive them. Beware for your lives. I, Tu-Kila-Kila the Great, have said it."
THE DOWNFALL OF A PANTHEON.
The Australasian's gig entered the lagoon through the fringing reef by its narrow seaward mouth, and rowed steadily for the landing place on the main island.
A little way out from shore, amid loud screams and yells, the natives came up with it in their laden war-canoes. Shouting and gesticulating and brandishing their spears with the shark's tooth tips, they endeavored to stop its progress landward by pure noise and bravado.
"We must be careful what we do, boys," the captain observed, in a quiet voice of seamanlike resolution to his armed companions. "We mustn't frighten the savages too much, or show too hostile a front, for fear they should retaliate on our friends on the island." He held up his hand, with the gold braid on the wrist, to command silence; and the natives, gazing open-mouthed, looked and wondered at the gesture. These sailing gods were certainly arrayed in most gorgeous vestments, and their canoe, though devoid of a grinning figure-head, was provided with a most admirable and well-uniformed equipment.
A coral rock jutted high out of the sea to the left hard by. Its summit was crowded with a basking population of sea-gulls and pelicans. The captain gave the word to "easy all." In a second the gig stopped short, as those stout arms held her. He rose in his place and lifted the six-shooter. Then he pointed it ostentatiously at the rock, away from the native canoes, and held up his hand yet again for silence. "We'll give 'em a taste of what we can do, boys," he said, "just to show 'em, not to hurt 'em." At that he drew the trigger twice. His first two chambers were loaded on purpose with duck-shot cartridges. Twice the big gun roared; twice the fire flashed red from its smoking mouth. As the smoke cleared away, the natives, dumb with surprise, and perfectly cowed with terror, saw ten or a dozen torn and bleeding birds float mangled upon the water.
"Now for the dynamite!" the captain said, cheerily, proceeding to lower a small object overboard by a single wire, while he held up his hand a third time to bespeak silence and attention.
The natives looked again, with eyes starting from their heads. The captain gave a little click, and pointed with his finger to a spot on the water's top, a little way in front of him. Instantly, a loud report, and a column of water spurted up into the air, some ten or twelve feet, in a boisterous fountain. As it subsided again, a hundred or so of the bright-colored fish that browse among the submerged, coral-groves of these still lagoons, rose dead or dying to the seething, boiling surface.
The captain smiled. Instantly the natives set up a terrified shout. "It is even as he said," they cried. "These gods are his ministers! The white-faced Korong is a very great deity! He is indeed the true Tu-Kila-Kila. These gods have come for him. They are very mighty. Thunder and lightning and waterspouts are theirs. The waves do as they bid. The sea obeys them. They are here to take away our Tu-Kila-Kila from our midst. And what will then become of the island of Boupari? Will it not sink in the waves of the sea and disappear? Will not the sun in heaven grow dark, and the moon cease to shed its benign light on the earth, when Tu-Kila-Kila the Great returns at last to his own far country?"
"That lot'll do for 'em, I expect," the captain said cheerily, with a confident smile. "Now forward all, boys. I fancy we've astonished the natives a trifle."
They rowed on steadily, but cautiously, toward the white bank of sand which formed the usual landing-place, the captain holding the six-shooter in readiness all the time, and keeping an eye firmly fixed on every movement of the savages. But the warriors in the canoes, thoroughly cowed and overawed by this singular exhibition of the strangers' prowess, paddled on in whispering silence, nearly abreast of the gig, but at a safe distance, as they thought, and eyed the advancing Europeans with quiet looks of unmixed suspicion.
At last, the adventurous young chief, who had advised killing Felix off-hand on the island, mustered up courage to paddle his own canoe a little nearer, and flung his spear madly in the direction of the gig. It fell short by ten yards. He stood eying it angrily. But the captain, grimly quiet, raising his Winchester to his shoulder without one second's delay, and marking his man, fired at the young chief as he stood, still half in the attitude of throwing, on the prow of his canoe, an easy aim for fire-arms. The ball went clean through the savage's breast, and then ricochetted three times on the water afar off. The young chief fell stone dead into the sea like a log, and sank instantly to the bottom.
It was a critical moment. The captain felt uncertain whether the natives would close round them in force or not. It is always dangerous to fire a shot at savages. But the Boupari men were too utterly awed to venture on defence. "He was Tu-Kila-Kila's enemy," they cried, in astonished tones. "He raised his voice against the very high god. Therefore, the very high god's friends have smitten him with their lightning. Their thunderbolt went through him, and hit the water beyond. How strong is their hand! They can kill from afar. They are mighty gods. Let no man strive to fight against the friends of Tu-Kila-Kila."
The sailors rowed on and reached the landing-place. There, half of them, headed by the captain, disembarked in good order, with drawn cutlasses, while the other half remained behind to guard the gig, under the third officer. The natives also disembarked, a little way off, and, making humble signs of submission with knee and arm, endeavored, by pantomime, to express the idea of their willingness to guide the strangers to their friends' quarters.
The captain waved them on with his hand. The natives, reassured, led the way, at some distance ahead, along the paths through the jungle. The captain had his finger on his six-shooter the while; every sailor grasped his cutlass and kept his revolver ready for action. "I don't half like the look of it," the captain observed, partly to himself. "They seem to be leading us into an ambuscade or something. Keep a sharp lookout against surprise from the jungle, boys; and if any native shows fight shoot him down instantly."
At last they emerged upon a clear space in the front, where a great group of savages stood in a circle, with serried spears, round a large wattled hut that occupied the elevated centre of the clearing.
For a minute or two the action of the savages was uncertain. Half of the defenders turned round to face the invaders angrily; the other half stood irresolute, with their spears still held inward, guarding a white line of sand with inflexible devotion.
The warriors who had preceded them from the shore called aloud to their friends by the temple in startled tones. The captain and sailors had no idea what their words meant. But just then, from the midst of the circle, an English voice cried out in haste, "Don't fire! Do nothing rash! We're safe. Don't be frightened. The natives are disposed to parley and palaver. Take care how you act. They're terribly afraid of you."
Just outside the taboo-line the captain halted. The gray-headed old chief, who had accompanied his fellows to the shore, spoke out in Polynesian. "Do not resist them," he said, "my people. If you do, you will be blasted by their lightning like a bare bamboo in a mighty cyclone. They carry thunder in their hands. They are mighty, mighty gods. The white-faced Korong spoke no more than the truth. Let them do as they will with us. We are but their meat. We are as dust beneath their sole, and as driven mulberry-leaves before the breath of the tempest."
The defenders hesitated still a little. Then, suddenly losing heart, they broke rank at last at a point close by where the captain of the Australasian stood, one man after another falling aside slowly and shamefacedly a pace or two. The captain, unhesitatingly, overstepped the white taboo-line. Next instant, Felix and Muriel were grasping his hand hard, and M. Peyron was bowing a polite Parisian reception.
Forthwith, the sailors crowded round them in a hollow square. Muriel and Felix, half faint with relief from their long and anxious suspense, staggered slowly down the seaward path between them. But there was no need now for further show of defence. The islanders, pressing near and flinging away their weapons, followed the procession close, with tears and lamentations. As they went on, the women, rushing out of their huts while the fugitives passed, tore their hair on their heads, and beat their breasts in terror. The warriors who had come from the shore recounted, with their own exaggerative additions, the miracle of the six-shooter and the dynamite cartridge. Gradually they approached the landing-place on the beach. There the third officer sat waiting in the gig to receive them. The lamentations of the islanders now became positively poignant. "Oh, my father," they cried aloud, "my brother, my revered one, you are indeed the true Tu-Kila-Kila. Do not go away like this and desert us! Oh, our mother, great queen, mighty goddess, stop with us! Take not away your sun from the heavens, nor your rain from the crops. We acknowledge we have sinned; we have done very wrong; but the chief sinner is dead; the wrong-doer has paid; spare us who remain; spare us, great deity; do not make the bright lights of heaven become dark over us. Stay with your worshippers, and we will give you choice young girls to eat every day, we will sacrifice the tenderest of our children to feed you."
It is an awful thing for any race or nation when its taboos fail all at once, and die out entirely. To the men of Boupari, the Tu-Kila-Kila of the moment represented both the Moral Order and the regular sequence of the physical universe. Anarchy and chaos might rule when he was gone. The sun might be quenched, and the people run riot. No wonder they shrank from the fearful consequence that might next ensue. King and priest, god and religion, all at one fell blow were to be taken away from them!
Felix turned round on the shore and spoke to them again. "My people," he said, in a kindly tone—for, after all, he pitied them—"you need have no fear. When I am gone, the sun will still shine and the trees will still bear fruit every year as formerly. I will send the messengers I promised from my own land to teach you. Until they come, I leave you this as a great Taboo. Tu-Kila-Kila enjoins it. Shed no human blood; eat no human flesh. Those who do will be punished when another fire-canoe comes from the far land to bring my messengers."
The King of Fire bent low at the words. "Oh, Tu-Kila-Kila," he said, "it shall be done as you say. Till your messengers come, every man shall live at peace with all his neighbors."
They stepped into the gig. Mali and Toko followed before M. Peyron as naturally as they had always followed their masters on the island before.
"Who are these?" the captain asked, smiling.
"Our Shadows," Felix answered. "Let them come. I will pay their passage when I reach San Francisco. They have been very faithful to us, and they are afraid to remain, lest the islanders should kill them for letting us go or for not accompanying us."
"Very well," the captain answered. "Forward all, there, boys! Now, ahead for the ship. And thank God, we're well out of it!"
But the islanders still stood on the shore and wept, stretching their hands in vain after the departing boat, and crying aloud in piteous tones, "Oh, my father, return! Oh, my mother, come back! Oh, very great gods, do not fly and desert us!"
Seven weeks later Mr. and Mrs. Felix Thurstan, who had been married in the cathedral at Honolulu the very morning the Australasian arrived there, sat in an eminently respectable drawing-room in a London square, where Mrs. Ellis, Muriel's aunt by marriage, was acting as their hostess.
"But how dreadful it is to think, dear," Mrs. Ellis remarked for the twentieth time since their arrival, with a deep-drawn sigh, "how dreadful to think that you and Felix should have been all those months alone on the island together without being married!"
Muriel looked up with a quiet smile toward Felix. "I think, Aunt Mary," she said, dreamily, "if you'd been there yourself, and suffered all those fears, and passed through all those horrors that we did together, you'd have troubled your head very little indeed about such conventionalities, as whether or not you happened to be married.... Besides," she added, after a pause, with a fine perception of the inexorable stringency of Mrs. Grundy's law, "we weren't quite without chaperons, either, don't you know; for our Shadows, of course, were always with us."
Whereat Felix smiled an equally quiet smile. "And terrible as it all was," he put in, "I shall never regret it, because it made Muriel know how profoundly I loved her, and it made me know how brave and trustful and pure a woman could be under such awful conditions."
But Mrs. Ellis sat still in her chair and smiled uncomfortably. It affected her spirits. Taboos, after all, are much the same in England as in Boupari.