I desire to express my profound indebtedness, for the central mythological idea embodied in this tale, to Mr. J.G. Frazer's admirable and epoch-making work, "The Golden Bough," whose main contention I have endeavored incidentally to popularize in my present story. I wish also to express my obligations in other ways to Mr. Andrew Lang's "Myth, Ritual, and Religion," Mr. H.O. Forbes's "Naturalist's Wanderings," and Mr.
Julian Thomas's "Cannibals and Convicts." If I have omitted to mention any other author to whom I may have owed incidental hints, it will be some consolation to me to reflect that I shall at least have afforded an opportunity for legitimate sport to the amateurs of the new and popular British pastime of badger-baiting or plagiary-hunting. It may also save critics some moments' search if I say at once that, after careful consideration, I have been unable to discover any moral whatsoever in this humble narrative. I venture to believe that in so enlightened an age the majority of my readers will never miss it.
THE NOOK, DORKING, October, 1890.
IN MID PACIFIC.
It rang in Felix Thurstan's ears like the sound of a bell. He gazed about him in dismay, wondering what had happened.
The first intimation he received of the accident was that sudden sharp cry from the bo'sun's mate. Almost before he had fully taken it in, in all its meaning, another voice, farther aft, took up the cry once more in an altered form: "A lady! a lady! Somebody overboard! Great heavens, it is _her_! It's Miss Ellis! Miss Ellis!”
Next instant Felix found himself, he knew not how, struggling in a wild grapple with the dark, black water. A woman was clinging to him--clinging for dear life. But he couldn't have told you himself that minute how it all took place. He was too stunned and dazzled.
He looked around him on the seething sea in a sudden awakening, as it were, to life and consciousness. All about, the great water stretched dark and tumultuous. White breakers surged over him. Far ahead the steamer's lights gleamed red and green in long lines upon the ocean. At first they ran fast; then they slackened somewhat. She was surely slowing now; they must be reversing engines and trying to stop her. They would put out a boat. But what hope, what chance of rescue by night, in such a wild waste of waves as that? And Muriel Ellis was clinging to him for dear life all the while, with the despairing clutch of a half-drowned woman!
The people on the Australasian, for their part, knew better what had occurred. There was bustle and confusion enough on deck and on the captain's bridge, to be sure: "Man overboard!"--three sharp rings at the engine bell:--"Stop her short!--reverse engines!--lower the gig!--look sharp, there, all of you!" Passengers hurried up breathless at the first alarm to know what was the matter. Sailors loosened and lowered the boat from the davits with extraordinary quickness. Officers stood by, giving orders in monosyllables with practised calm. All was hurry and turmoil, yet with a marvellous sense of order and prompt obedience as well. But, at any rate, the people on deck hadn't the swift swirl of the boisterous water, the hampering wet clothes, the pervading consciousness of personal danger, to make their brains reel, like Felix Thurstan's. They could ask one another with comparative composure what had happened on board; they could listen without terror to the story of the accident.
It was the thirteenth day out from Sydney, and the Australasian was rapidly nearing the equator. Toward evening the wind had freshened, and the sea was running high against her weather side. But it was a fine starlit night, though the moon had not yet risen; and as the brief tropical twilight faded away by quick degrees in the west, the fringe of cocoanut palms on the reef that bounded the little island of Boupari showed out for a minute or two in dark relief, some miles to leeward, against the pale pink horizon. In spite of the heavy sea, many passengers lingered late on deck that night to see the last of that coral-girt shore, which was to be their final glimpse of land till they reached Honolulu, _en route_ for San Francisco.
Bit by bit, however, the cocoanut palms, silhouetted with their graceful waving arms for a few brief minutes in black against the glowing background, merged slowly into the sky or sank below the horizon. All grew dark. One by one, as the trees disappeared, the passengers dropped off for whist in the saloon, or retired to the uneasy solitude of their own state-rooms. At last only two or three men were left smoking and chatting near the top of the companion ladder; while at the stern of the ship Muriel Ellis looked over toward the retreating island, and talked with a certain timid maidenly frankness to Felix Thurstan.
There's nowhere on earth for getting really to know people in a very short time like the deck of a great Atlantic or Pacific liner. You're thrown together so much, and all day long, that you see more of your fellow-passengers' inner life and nature in a few brief weeks than you would ever be likely to see in a long twelvemonth of ordinary town or country acquaintanceship. And Muriel Ellis had seen a great deal in those thirteen days of Felix Thurstan; enough to make sure in her own heart that she really liked him--well--so much that she looked up with a pretty blush of self-consciousness every time he approached and lifted his hat to her. Muriel was an English rector's daughter, from a country village in Somersetshire; and she was now on her way back from a long year's visit, to recruit her health, to an aunt in Paramatta. She was travelling under the escort of an amiable old chaperon whom the aunt in question had picked up for her before leaving Sydney; but, as the amiable old chaperon, being but an indifferent sailor, spent most of her time in her own berth, closely attended by the obliging stewardess, Muriel had found her chaperonage interfere very little with opportunities of talk with that nice Mr. Thurstan. And now, as the last glow of sunset died out in the western sky, and the last palm-tree faded away against the colder green darkness of the tropical night, Muriel was leaning over the bulwarks in confidential mood, and watching the big waves advance or recede, and talking the sort of talk that such an hour seems to favor with the handsome young civil servant who stood on guard, as it were, beside her. For Felix Thurstan held a government appointment at Levuka, in Fiji, and was now on his way home, on leave of absence after six years' service in that new-made colony.
"How delightful it would be to live on an island like that!" Muriel murmured, half to herself, as she gazed out wistfully in the direction of the disappearing coral reef. "With those beautiful palms waving always over one's head, and that delicious evening air blowing cool through their branches! It looks such a Paradise!”
Felix smiled and glanced down at her, as he steadied himself with one hand against the bulwark, while the ship rolled over into the trough of the sea heavily. "Well, I don't know about that, Miss Ellis," he answered with a doubtful air, eying her close as he spoke with eyes of evident admiration. "One might be happy anywhere, of course--in suitable society; but if you'd lived as long among cocoanuts in Fiji as I have, I dare say the poetry of these calm palm-grove islands would be a little less real to you. Remember, though they look so beautiful and dreamy against the sky like that, at sunset especially (that was a heavy one, that time; I'm really afraid we must go down to the cabin soon; she'll be shipping seas before long if we stop on deck much later--and yet, it's so delightful stopping up here till the dusk comes on, isn't it?)--well, remember, I was saying, though they look so beautiful and dreamy and poetical--'Summer isles of Eden lying in dark purple spheres of sea,' and all that sort of thing--these islands are inhabited by the fiercest and most bloodthirsty cannibals known to travellers.”
"Cannibals!" Muriel repeated, looking up at him in surprise. "You don't mean to say that islands like these, standing right in the very track of European steamers, are still heathen and cannibal?”
"Oh, dear, yes," Felix replied, holding his hand out as he spoke to catch his companion's arm gently, and steady her against the wave that was just going to strike the stern: "Excuse me; just so; the sea's rising fast, isn't it?--Oh, dear, yes; of course they are; they're all heathen and cannibals. You couldn't imagine to yourself the horrible bloodthirsty rites that may this very minute be taking place upon that idyllic-looking island, under the soft waving branches of those whispering palm-trees.
Why, I knew a man in the Marquesas myself--a hideous old native, as ugly as you can fancy him--who was supposed to be a god, an incarnate god, and was worshipped accordingly with profound devotion by all the other islanders. You can't picture to yourself how awful their worship was. I daren't even repeat it to you; it was too, too horrible. He lived in a hut by himself among the deepest forest, and human victims used to be brought--well, there, it's too loathsome! Why, see; there's a great light on the island now; a big bonfire or something; don't you make it out? You can tell it by the red glare in the sky overhead." He paused a moment; then he added more slowly, "I shouldn't be surprised if at this very moment, while we're standing here in such perfect security on the deck of a Christian English vessel, some unspeakable and unthinkable heathen orgy mayn't be going on over there beside that sacrificial fire; and if some poor trembling native girl isn't being led just now, with blows and curses and awful savage ceremonies, her hands bound behind her back--Oh, look out, Miss Ellis!”
He was only just in time to utter the warning words. He was only just in time to put one hand on each side of her slender waist, and hold her tight so, when the big wave which he saw coming struck full tilt against the vessel's flank, and broke in one white drenching sheet of foam against her stern and quarter-deck.
The suddenness of the assault took Felix's breath away. For the first few seconds he was only aware that a heavy sea had been shipped, and had wet him through and through with its unexpected deluge. A moment later, he was dimly conscious that his companion had slipped from his grasp, and was nowhere visible. The violence of the shock, and the slimy nature of the sea water, had made him relax his hold without knowing it, in the tumult of the moment, and had at the same time caused Muriel to glide imperceptibly through his fingers, as he had often known an ill-caught cricket-ball do in his school-days. Then he saw he was on his hands and knees on the deck. The wave had knocked him down, and dashed him against the bulwark on the leeward side. As he picked himself up, wet, bruised, and shaken, he looked about for Muriel. A terrible dread seized upon his soul at once. Impossible! Impossible! she couldn't have been washed overboard!
And even as he gazed about, and held his bruised elbow in his hand, and wondered to himself what it could all mean, that sudden loud cry arose beside him from the quarter-deck, "Man overboard! Man overboard!”
followed a moment later by the answering cry, from the men who were smoking under the lee of the companion, "A lady! a lady! It's Miss Ellis!
He didn't take it all in. He didn't reflect. He didn't even know he was actually doing it. But he did it, all the same, with the simple, straightforward, instinctive sense of duty which makes civilized man act aright, all unconsciously, in any moment of supreme danger and difficulty. Leaping on to the taffrail without one instant's delay, and steadying himself for an indivisible fraction of time with his hand on the rope ladder, he peered out into the darkness with keen eyes for a glimpse of Muriel Ellis's head above the fierce black water; and espying it for one second, as she came up on a white crest, he plunged in before the vessel had time to roll back to windward, and struck boldly out in the direction where he saw that helpless object dashed about like a cork on the surface of the ocean.
Only those who have known such accidents at sea can possibly picture to themselves the instantaneous haste with which all that followed took place upon that bustling quarter-deck. Almost at the first cry of "Man overboard!" the captain's bell rang sharp and quick, as if by magic, with three peremptory little calls in the engine-room below. The Australasian was going at full speed, but in a marvellously short time, as it seemed to all on board, the great ship had slowed down to a perfect standstill, and then had reversed her engines, so that she lay, just nose to the wind, awaiting further orders. In the meantime, almost as soon as the words were out of the bo'sun's lips, a sailor amidships had rushed to the safety belts hung up by the companion ladder, and had flung half a dozen of them, one after another, with hasty but well-aimed throws, far, far astern, in the direction where Felix had disappeared into the black water. The belts were painted white, and they showed for a few seconds, as they fell, like bright specks on the surface of the darkling sea; then they sunk slowly behind as the big ship, still not quite stopped, ploughed her way ahead with gigantic force into the great abyss of darkness in front of her.
It seemed but a minute, too, to the watchers on board, before a party of sailors, summoned by the whistle with that marvellous readiness to meet any emergency which long experience of sudden danger has rendered habitual among seafaring men, had lowered the boat, and taken their seats on the thwarts, and seized their oars, and were getting under way on their hopeless quest of search, through the dim black night, for those two belated souls alone in the midst of the angry Pacific.
It seemed but a minute or two, I say, to the watchers on board; but oh, what an eternity of time to Felix Thurstan, struggling there with his live burden in the seething water!
He had dashed into the ocean, which was dark, but warm with tropical heat, and had succeeded, in spite of the heavy seas then running, in reaching Muriel, who clung to him now with all the fierce clinging of despair, and impeded his movement through that swirling water. More than that, he saw the white life-belts that the sailors flung toward him; they were well and aptly flung, in the inspiration of the moment, to allow for the sea itself carrying them on the crest of its waves toward the two drowning creatures. Felix saw them distinctly, and making a great lunge as they passed, in spite of Muriel's struggles, which sadly hampered his movements, he managed to clutch at no less than three before the great billow, rolling on, carried them off on its top forever away from him.
Two of these he slipped hastily over Muriel's shoulders; the other he put, as best he might, round his own waist; and then, for the first time, still clinging close to his companion's arm, and buffeted about wildly by that running sea, he was able to look about him in alarm for a moment, and realize more or less what had actually happened.
By this time the Australasian was a quarter of a mile away in front of them, and her lights were beginning to become stationary as she slowly slowed and reversed engines. Then, from the summit of a great wave, Felix was dimly aware of a boat being lowered--for he saw a separate light gleaming across the sea--a search was being made in the black night, alas, how hopelessly! The light hovered about for many, many minutes, revealed to him now here, now there, searching in vain to find him, as wave after wave raised him time and again on its irresistible summit. The men in the boat were doing their best, no doubt; but what chance of finding any one on a dark night like that, in an angry sea, and with no clue to guide them toward the two struggling castaways? Current and wind had things all their own way. As a matter of fact, the light never came near the castaways at all; and after half an hour's ineffectual search, which seemed to Felix a whole long lifetime, it returned slowly toward the steamer from which it came--and left those two alone on the dark Pacific.
"There wasn't a chance of picking 'em up," the captain said, with philosophic calm, as the men clambered on board again, and the Australasian got under way once more for the port of Honolulu. "I knew there wasn't a chance; but in common humanity one was bound to make some show of trying to save 'em. He was a brave fellow to go after her, though it was no good of course. He couldn't even find her, at night, and with such a sea as that running.”
And even as he spoke, Felix Thurstan, rising once more on the crest of a much smaller billow--for somehow the waves were getting incredibly smaller as he drifted on to leeward--felt his heart sink within him as he observed to his dismay that the Australasian must be steaming ahead once more, by the movement of her lights, and that they two were indeed abandoned to their fate on the open surface of that vast and trackless ocean.
THE TEMPLE OF THE DEITY.
While these things were happening on the sea close by, a very different scene indeed was being enacted meanwhile, beneath those waving palms, on the island of Boupari. It was strange, to be sure, as Felix Thurstan had said, that such unspeakable heathen orgies should be taking place within sight of a passing Christian English steamer. But if only he had known or reflected to what sort of land he was trying now to struggle ashore with Muriel, he might well have doubted whether it were not better to let her perish where she was, in the pure clear ocean, rather than to submit an English girl to the possibility of undergoing such horrible heathen rites and ceremonies.
For on the island of Boupari it was high feast with the worshippers of their god that night. The sun had turned on the Tropic of Capricorn at noon, and was making his way northward, toward the equator once more; and his votaries, as was their wont, had all come forth to do him honor in due season, and to pay their respects, in the inmost and sacredest grove on the island, to his incarnate representative, the living spirit of trees and fruits and vegetation, the very high god, the divine Tu-Kila-Kila!
Early in the evening, as soon as the sun's rim had disappeared beneath the ocean, a strange noise boomed forth from the central shrine of Boupari. Those who heard it clapped their hands to their ears and ran hastily forward. It was a noise like distant rumbling thunder, or the whir of some great English mill or factory; and at its sound every woman on the island threw herself on the ground prostrate, with her face in the dust, and waited there reverently till the audible voice of the god had once more subsided. For no woman knew how that sound was produced. Only the grown men, initiated into the mysteries of the shrine when they came of age at the tattooing ceremony, were aware that the strange, buzzing, whirring noise was nothing more or less than the cry of the bull-roarer.
A bull-roarer, as many English schoolboys know, is merely a piece of oblong wood, pointed at either end, and fastened by a leather thong at one corner. But when whirled round the head by practised priestly hands, it produces a low rumbling noise like the wheels of a distant carriage, growing gradually louder and clearer, from moment to moment, till at last it waxes itself into a frightful din, or bursts into perfect peals of imitation thunder. Then it decreases again once more, as gradually as it rose, becoming fainter and ever fainter, like thunder as it recedes, till the horrible bellowing, as of supernatural bulls, dies away in the end, by slow degrees, into low and soft and imperceptible murmurs.
But when the savage hears the distant humming of the bull-roarer, at whatever distance, he knows that the mysteries of his god are in full swing, and he hurries forward in haste, leaving his work or his pleasure, and running, naked as he stands, to take his share in the worship, lest the anger of heaven should burst forth in devouring flames to consume him. But the women, knowing themselves unworthy to face the dread presence of the high god in his wrath, rush wildly from the spot, and, flinging themselves down at full length, with their mouths to the dust, wait patiently till the voice of their deity is no longer audible.
And as the bull-roarer on Boupari rang out with wild echoes from the coral caverns in the central grove that evening, Tu-Kila-Kila, their god, rose slowly from his place, and stood out from his hut, a deity revealed, before his reverential worshippers.
As he rose, a hushed whisper ran wave-like through the dense throng of dusky forms that bent low, like corn beneath the wind, before him, "Tu-Kila-Kila rises! He rises to speak! Hush! for the voice of the mighty man-god!”
The god, looking around him superciliously with a cynical air of contempt, stood forward with a firm and elastic step before his silent worshippers. He was a stalwart savage, in the very prime of life, tall, lithe, and active. His figure was that of a man well used to command; but his face, though handsome, was visibly marked by every external sign of cruelty, lust, and extreme bloodthirstiness. One might have said, merely to look at him, he was a being debased by all forms of brutal and hateful self-indulgence. A baleful light burned in his keen gray eyes.
His lips were thick, full, purple, and wistful.
"My people may look upon me," he said, in a strangely affable voice, standing forward and smiling with a curious half-cruel, half-compassionate smile upon his awe-struck followers. "On every day of the sun's course but this, none save the ministers dedicated to the service of Tu-Kila-Kila dare gaze unhurt upon his sacred person. If any other did, the light from his holy eyes would wither them up, and the glow of his glorious countenance would scorch them to ashes." He raised his two hands, palm outward, in front of him. "So all the year round," he went on, "Tu-Kila-Kila, who loves his people, and sends them the earlier and the later rain in the wet season, and makes their yams and their taro grow, and causes his sun to shine upon them freely--all the year round Tu-Kila-Kila, your god, sits shut up in his own house among the skeletons of those whom he has killed and eaten, or walks in his walled paddock, where his bread-fruit ripens and his plantains spring--himself, and the ministers that his tribesmen have given him.”
At the sound of their mystic deity's voice the savages, bending lower still till their foreheads touched the ground, repeated in chorus, to the clapping of hands, like some solemn litany: "Tu-Kila-Kila speaks true.
Our lord is merciful. He sends down his showers upon our crops and fields. He causes his sun to shine brightly over us. He makes our pigs and our slaves bring forth their increase. Tu-Kila-Kila is good. His people praise him.”
The god took another step forward, the divine mantle of red feathers glowing in the sunset on his dusky shoulders, and smiled once more that hateful gracious smile of his. He was standing near the open door of his wattled hut, overshadowed by the huge spreading arms of a gigantic banyan-tree. Through the open door of the hut it was possible to catch just a passing glimpse of an awful sight within. On the beams of the house, and on the boughs of the trees behind it, human skeletons, half covered with dry flesh, hung in ghastly array, their skulls turned downward. They were the skeletons of the victims Tu-Kila-Kila, their prince, had slain and eaten; they were the trophies of the cannibal man-god's hateful prowess.
Tu-Kila-Kila raised his right hand erect and spoke again. "I am a great god," he said, slowly. "I am very powerful. I make the sun to shine, and the yams to grow. I am the spirit of plants. Without me there would be nothing for you all to eat or drink in Boupari. If I were to grow old and die, the sun would fade away in the heavens overhead; the bread-fruit trees would wither and cease to bear on earth; all fruits would come to an end and die at once; all rivers would stop forthwith from running.”
His worshippers bowed down in acquiescence with awestruck faces. "It is true," they answered, in the same slow sing-song of assent as before.
"Tu-Kila-Kila is the greatest of gods. We owe to him everything. We hang upon his favor.”
Tu-Kila-Kila started back, laughed, and showed his pearly white teeth.
They were beautiful and regular, like the teeth of a tiger, a strong young tiger. "But I need more sacrifices than all the other gods," he went on, melodiously, like one who plays with consummate skill upon some difficult instrument. "I am greedy; I am thirsty; I am a hungry god. You must not stint me. I claim more human victims than all the other gods beside. If you want your crops to grow, and your rivers to run, the fields to yield you game, and the sea fish--this is what I ask: give me victims, victims! That is our compact. Tu-Kila-Kila calls you.”
The men bowed down once more and repeated humbly, "You shall have victims as you will, great god; only give us yam and taro and bread-fruit, and cause not your bright light, the sun, to grow dark in heaven over us.”
"Cut yourselves," Tu-Kila-Kila cried, in a peremptory voice, clapping his hands thrice. "I am thirsting for blood. I want your free-will offering.”
As he spoke, every man, as by a set ritual, took from a little skin wallet at his side a sharp flake of coral-stone, and, drawing it deliberately across his breast in a deep red gash, caused the blood to flow out freely over his chest and long grass waistband. Then, having done so, they never strove for a moment to stanch the wound, but let the red drops fall as they would on to the dust at their feet, without seeming even to be conscious at all of the fact that they were flowing.
Tu-Kila-Kila smiled once more, a ghastly self-satisfied smile of unquestioned power. "It is well," he went on. "My people love me. They know my strength, how I can wither them up. They give me their blood to drink freely. So I will be merciful to them. I will make my sun shine and my rain drop from heaven. And instead of taking _all_, I will choose one victim." He paused, and glanced along their line significantly.
"Choose, Tu-Kila-Kila," the men answered, without a moment's hesitation.
"We are all your meat. Choose which one you will take of us.”
Tu-Kila-Kila walked with a leisurely tread down the lines and surveyed the men critically. They were all drawn up in rows, one behind the other, according to tribes and families; and the god walked along each row, examining them with a curious and interested eye, as a farmer examines sheep fit for the market. Now and then, he felt a leg or an arm with his finger and thumb, and hesitated a second. It was an important matter, this choosing a victim. As he passed, a close observer might have noted that each man trembled visibly while the god's eye was upon him, and looked after him askance with a terrified sidelong gaze as he passed on to his neighbor. But not one savage gave any overt sign or token of his terror or his reluctance. On the contrary, as Tu-Kila-Kila passed along the line with lazy, cruel deliberateness, the men kept chanting aloud without one tremor in their voices, "We are all your meat. Choose which one you will take of us.”
On a sudden, Tu-Kila-Kila turned sharply round, and, darting a rapid glance toward a row he had already passed several minutes before, he exclaimed, with an air of unexpected inspiration, "Tu-Kila-Kila has chosen. He takes Maloa.”
The man upon whose shoulder the god laid his heavy hand as he spoke stood forth from the crowd without a moment's hesitation. If anger or fear was in his heart at all, it could not be detected in his voice or his features. He bowed his head with seeming satisfaction, and answered humbly, "What Tu-Kila-Kila says must need be done. This is a great honor.
He is a mighty god. We poor men must obey him. We are proud to be taken up and made one with divinity.”
Tu-Kila-Kila raised in his hand a large stone axe of some polished green material, closely resembling jade, which lay on a block by the door, and tried its edge with his finger, in an abstracted manner. "Bind him!" he said, quietly, turning round to his votaries. And the men, each glad to have escaped his own fate, bound their comrade willingly with green ropes of plantain fibre.
"Crown him with flowers!" Tu-Kila-Kila said; and a female attendant, absolved from the terror of the bull-roarer by the god's command, brought forward a great garland of crimson hibiscus, which she flung around the victim's neck and shoulders.
"Lay his head on the sacred stone block of our fathers," Tu-Kila-Kila went on, in an easy tone of command, waving his hand gracefully. And the men, moving forward, laid their comrade, face downward, on a huge flat block of polished greenstone, which lay like an altar in front of the hut with the mouldering skeletons.
"It is well," Tu-Kila-Kila murmured once more, half aloud. "You have given me the free-will offering. Now for the trespass! Where is the woman who dared to approach too near the temple-home of the divine Tu-Kila-Kila? Bring the criminal forward!”
The men divided, and made a lane down their middle. Then one of them, a minister of the man-god's shrine, led up by the hand, all trembling and shrinking with supernatural terror in every muscle, a well-formed young girl of eighteen or twenty. Her naked bronze limbs were shapely and lissome; but her eyes were swollen and red with tears, and her face strongly distorted with awe for the man-god. When she stood at last before Tu-Kila-Kila's dreaded face, she flung herself on the ground in an agony of fear.
"Oh, mercy, great God!" she cried, in a feeble voice. "I have sinned, I have sinned. Mercy, mercy!”
Tu-Kila-Kila smiled as before, a smile of imperial pride. No ray of pity gleamed from those steel-gray eyes. "Does Tu-Kila-Kila show mercy?" he asked, in a mocking voice. "Does he pardon his suppliants? Does he forgive trespasses? Is he not a god, and must not his wrath be appeased?
She, being a woman, and not a wife sealed to Tu-Kila-Kila, has dared to look from afar upon his sacred home. She has spied the mysteries.
Therefore she must die. My people, bind her.”
In a second, without more ado, while the poor trembling girl writhed and groaned in her agony before their eyes, that mob of wild savages, let loose to torture and slay, fell upon her with hideous shouts, and bound her, as they had bound their comrade before, with coarse native ropes of twisted plantain fibre.
"Lay her head on the stone," Tu-Kila-Kila said, grimly. And his votaries obeyed him.
"Now light the sacred fire to make our feast, before I slay the victims,”
the god said, in a gloating voice, running his finger again along the edge of his huge hatchet.
As he spoke, two men, holding in their hands hollow bamboos with coals of fire concealed within, which they kept aglow meanwhile by waving them up and down rapidly in the air, laid these primitive matches to the base of a great pyramidal pile of wood and palm-leaves, ready prepared beforehand in the yard of the temple. In a second, the dry fuel, catching the sparks instantly, blazed up to heaven with a wild outburst of flame. Great red tongues of fire licked up the mouldering mass of leaves and twigs, and caught at once at the trunks of palm and li wood within. A huge conflagration reddened the sky at once like lightning. The effect was magical. The glow transfigured the whole island for miles. It was, in fact, the blaze that Felix Thurstan had noted and remarked upon as he stood that evening on the silent deck of the Australasian.
Tu-Kila-Kila gazed at it with horrid childish glee. "A fine fire!" he said, gayly. "A fire worthy of a god. It will serve me well. Tu-Kila-Kila will have a good oven to roast his meal in.”
Then he turned toward the sea, and held up his hand once more for silence. As he did so, an answering light upon its surface attracted his eye for a moment's space. It was a bright red light, mixed with white and green ones; in point of fact, the Australasian was passing. Tu-Kila-Kila pointed toward it solemnly with his plump, brown fore-finger. "See," he said, drawing himself up and looking preternaturally wise; "your god is great. I am sending some of this fire across the sea to where my sun has set, to aid and reinforce it. That is to keep up the fire of the sun, lest ever at any time it should fade and fail you. While Tu-Kila-Kila lives the sun will burn bright. If Tu-Kila-Kila were to die it would be night forever.”
His votaries, following their god's fore-finger as it pointed, all turned to look in the direction he indicated with blank surprise and astonishment. Such a sight had never met their eyes before, for the Australasian was the very first steamer to take the eastward route, through the dangerous and tortuous Boupari Channel. So their awe and surprise at the unwonted sight knew no bounds. Fire on the ocean!
Miraculous light on the waves! Their god must, indeed, be a mighty deity if he could send flames like that careering over the sea! Surely the sun was safe in the hands of a potentate who could thus visibly reinforce it with red light, and white! In their astonishment and awe, they stood with their long hair falling down over their foreheads, and their hands held up to their eyes that they might gaze the farther across the dim, dark ocean. The borrowed light of their bonfire was moving, slowly moving over the watery sea. Fire and water were mixing and mingling on friendly terms. Impossible! Incredible! Marvellous! Miraculous! They prostrated themselves in their terror at Tu-Kila-Kila's feet. "Oh, great god," they cried, in awe-struck tones, "your power is too vast! Spare us, spare us, spare us!”
As for Tu-Kila-Kila himself, he was not astonished at all. Strange as it sounds to us, he really believed in his heart what he said. Profoundly convinced of his own godhead, and abjectly superstitious as any of his own votaries, he absolutely accepted as a fact his own suggestion, that the light he saw was the reflection of that his men had kindled. The interpretation he had put upon it seemed to him a perfectly natural and just one. His worshippers, indeed, mere men that they were, might be terrified at the sight; but why should he, a god, take any special notice of it?
He accepted his own superiority as implicitly as our European nobles and rulers accept theirs. He had no doubts himself, and he considered those who had little better than criminals.
By and by, a smaller light detached itself by slow degrees from the greater ones. The others stood still, and halted in mid-ocean. The lesser light made as if it would come in the direction of Boupari. In point of fact, the gig had put out in search of Felix and Muriel.
Tu-Kila-Kila interpreted the facts at once, however, in his own way.
"See," he said, pointing with his plump forefinger once more, and encouraging with his words his terrified followers, "I am sending back a light again from the sun to my island. I am doing my work well. I am taking care of my people. Fear not for your future. In the light is yet another victim. A man and a woman will come to Boupari from the sun, to make up for the man and woman whom we eat in our feast to-night. Give me plenty of victims, and you will have plenty of yam. Make haste, then; kill, eat; let us feast Tu-Kila-Kila! To-morrow the man and woman I have sent from the sun will come ashore on the reef, and reach Boupari.”
At the words, he stepped forward and raised that heavy tomahawk. With one blow each he brained the two bound and defenceless victims on the altar-stone of his fathers. The rest, a European hand shrinks from revealing. The orgy was too horrible even for description.
And that was the land toward which, that moment, Felix Thurstan was struggling, with all his might, to carry Muriel Ellis, from the myriad clasping arms of a comparatively gentle and merciful ocean!
LAND; BUT WHAT LAND?
As the last glimmering lights of the Australasian died away to seaward, Felix Thurstan knew in his despair there was nothing for it now but to strike out boldly, if he could, for the shore of the island.
By this time the breakers had subsided greatly. Not, indeed, that the sea itself was really going down. On the contrary, a brisk wind was rising sharper from the east, and the waves on the open Pacific were growing each moment higher and loppier. But the huge mountain of water that washed Muriel Ellis overboard was not a regular ordinary wave; it was that far more powerful and dangerous mass, a shoal-water breaker. The Australasian had passed at that instant over a submerged coral-bar, quite deep enough, indeed, to let her cross its top without the slightest danger of grazing, but still raised so high toward the surface as to produce a considerable constant ground-swell, which broke in windy weather into huge sheets of surf, like the one that had just struck and washed over the Australasian, carrying Muriel with it. The very same cause that produced the breakers, however, bore Felix on their summit rapidly landward; and once he had got well beyond the region of the bar that begot them, he found himself soon, to his intense relief, in comparatively calm shoal water.
Muriel Ellis, for her part, was faint with terror and with the buffeting of the waves; but she still floated by his side, upheld by the life-belts. He had been able, by immense efforts, to keep unseparated from her amid the rending surf of the breakers. Now that they found themselves in easier waters for a while, Felix began to strike out vigorously through the darkness for the shore. Holding up his companion with one hand, and swimming with all his might in the direction where a vague white line of surf, lit up by the red glare-of some fire far inland, made him suspect the nearest land to lie, he almost thought he had succeeded at last, after a long hour of struggle, in feeling his feet, after all, on a firm coral bottom.
At the very moment he did so, and touched the ground underneath, another great wave, curling resistlessly behind him, caught him up on its crest, whirled him heavenward like a cork, and then dashed him down once more, a passive burden, on some soft and yielding substance, which he conjectured at once to be a beach of finely powdered coral fragments. As he touched this beach for an instant, the undertow of that vast dashing breaker sucked him back with its ebb again, a helpless, breathless creature; and then the succeeding wave rolled him over like a ball, upon the beach as before, in quick succession. Four times the back-current sucked him under with its wild pull in the self-same way, and four times the return wave flung him up upon the beach again like a fragment of sea-weed. With frantic efforts Felix tried at first to cling still to Muriel--to save her from the irresistible force of that roaring surf--to snatch her from the open jaws of death by sheer struggling dint of thews and muscle. He might as well have tried to stem Niagara. The great waves, curling irresistibly in huge curves landward, caught either of them up by turns on their arched summits, and twisted them about remorselessly, raising them now aloft on their foaming crest, beating them back now prone in their hollow trough, and flinging them fiercely at last with pitiless energy against the soft beach of coral. If the beach had been hard, they must infallibly have been ground to powder or beaten to jelly by the colossal force of those gigantic blows. Fortunately it was yielding, smooth, and clay-like, and received them almost as a layer of moist plaster of Paris might have done, or they would have stood no chance at all for their lives in that desperate battle with the blind and frantic forces of unrelenting nature.
No man who has not himself seen the surf break on one of these far-southern coral shores can form any idea in his own mind of the terror and horror of the situation. The water, as it reaches the beach, rears itself aloft for a second into a huge upright wall, which, advancing slowly, curls over at last in a hollow circle, and pounds down upon the sand or reef with all the crushing force of some enormous sledge-hammer.
But after the fourth assault, Felix felt himself flung up high and dry by the wave, as one may sometimes see a bit of light reed or pith flung up some distance ahead by an advancing tide on the beach in England. In an instant he steadied himself and staggered to his feet. Torn and bruised as he was by the pummelling of the billows, he looked eagerly into the water in search of his companion. The next wave flung up Muriel, as the last had flung himself. He bent over her with a panting heart as she lay there, insensible, on the long white shore. Alive or dead? that was now the question.
Raising her hastily in his arms, with her clothes all clinging wet and close about her, Felix carried her over the narrow strip of tidal beach, above high-water level, and laid her gently down on a soft green bank of short tropical herbage, close to the edge of the coral. Then he bent over her once more, and listened eagerly at her heart. It still beat with faint pulses--beat--beat--beat. Felix throbbed with joy. She was alive!
alive! He was not quite alone, then, on that unknown island!
And strange as it seemed, it was only a little more than two short hours since they had stood and looked out across the open sea over the bulwarks of the Australasian together!
But Felix had no time to moralize just then. The moment was clearly one for action. Fortunately, he happened to carry three useful things in his pocket when he jumped overboard after Muriel. The first was a pocket-knife; the second was a flask with a little whiskey in it; and the third, perhaps the most important of all, a small metal box of wax vesta
Verlag: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 05.03.2014
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