By the World Forgot: A Double Romance of the East and Westскачать книгу бесплатно
"That place overlooking the deep bay, where first I saw you, where you go to meet the sunrising-I know now why you do it," he broke off.
"That is where they used to watch and hope for the ships."
"Sometimes I have seen a black cloud far away."
"The smoke of a steamer."
She nodded, not comprehending fully, but acquiescing naturally in anything he put forth.
"But it never came near," she added as he went on.
"From there we can see not only the sea but the whole island. No trees grow near. No one can approach without being seen for a long distance. We will take the books and hide them there in the rocks and cover them up carefully. There I will teach you to read the speaking leaves."
"But when old Kobo discovers they are gone?"
"We will put them back in good time. It will be as easy to put them back as it was to take them. No one goes into the church except at that monthly visit. Are you sure?"
"Well, the rest is simple."
Using one of the cocoa-fiber baskets with which the islanders were accustomed to carry their produce from field to house, the two books were carried to the hiding place without suspicion the next morning. Beekman found a suitable recess, rounded it out with loose stones, and made a dry hiding place for the volumes when they were not in use. The natives generally avoided that spot, but once or twice Hano or Kobo or one of the elders had visited it when the two were there. And, as they had done before, they came again in the days that followed, but the lovers were always found apparently idly scanning the sea and talking about indifferent things.
Of course, some suspicion was at first aroused by their unusually long visits to that semi-sacred spot, but it was soon dissipated in the indifferent and inert minds of every one of them except Hano. As he was whiter, so he was abler than the rest. He made up his mind that he would overhear what those two, one of whom he hated as much as he loved the other, had to say to each other in those long hours. He came in the night, searching for a place of concealment where he could lie hidden and whence he could overhear, but at first he found none. To hide on the slope that went upward to form the walls of the little amphitheater which opened upon the bay or gulf and sea at the top of the cliff was an impossibility. In the first place, he never could get there without traversing the only practicable path and being observed the whole way. In the second place, if he had found a spot where he could lie hidden, he would be so far from the lip of the wall that he could neither hear nor see. There were no caves or crannies big enough to conceal him.
In despair, he stepped to the extreme edge and glanced down, and instantly the solution of his problem presented itself. About six feet below the level of the little amphitheater was a shelf of rock. Access to it would be difficult, dangerous, but not impossible.
He tried, and, although he was not used to great heights, he made it. Such was the stimulus of his hate. He examined the shelf of rock, discovered that it ran inward a little, so that if necessary he could conceal himself even from direct observation from above.
The next day he would try it. He would get up before daybreak, and when Truda visited the place for her unfailing survey of the sea at dawn, he would be concealed. After that visit the two invariably went back to the village for breakfast. Then they returned and the lessons began. She had proved an amazingly apt scholar. She could spell out many of the words of the Dutch Bible and express most of the thought in simple English. The written word of the log book was still a mystery to her. He had read it to her, but had not tried to teach her from it then; but she had made great headway with the printed word. After she had learned enough of that, Beekman intended to devise some means to teach her to write, but for the present printing was enough. He began with the Gospel according to St. Luke, which he had preferred to the others for its clear, simple, and beautiful style. Truda not only learned the letters and the simpler words, but she also began to apprehend the great truths of religion which Beekman had held perfunctorily and sometimes lightly, but which on that heaven-kissed hill, on that forgotten island, in the midst of that great sea, he too began to appreciate and realize as he had never done before.
Sweet indeed were those hours when he sat with that old Dutch Bible open on his knee, while she sat upon a lower rock by his side, leaning innocently upon him, her head bent close to the pages of Holy Writ, following eagerly his pointing finger with her glance and imbibing the teaching that he gave her. Imbibing other things, too, for sometimes he broke off and closed the book and laid his hand upon the girl's head or shoulder, or turned her face up to his while she nestled closer to him. They spoke together, without reserve, of the deeper things of love and life. There were no conventions save such as the instinctive sweetness and purity of the woman and the stern repression of the man imposed.
Truda had become so proficient in her English now that they no longer used Polynesian at all; they spoke English or Dutch habitually. Consequently, the listening Hano, his ears attuned by jealousy and hatred and love and tumult of passion to catch the slightest meaning, could make out but little of what was said, especially as they sometimes whispered with the soft yet passionate cadences of lovers alone.
There was no wind that day. The long, slow silting of the waves through the crevices in the barrier far below only came up to the top of the island in faint murmurs. The listener could hear voices but not understand. Indeed, the clearest sound that came to him was the rustling caused by the turning of the stiff, thick, parchment-like leaves of the book. He could not understand what it was. He was greatly puzzled by it.
So the hours wore away. As it approached noontime the cooling shadow cast upon the lovers by the rock wall of the little cup in which they lingered, was withdrawn from them by the upward movement of the sun. The lesson for the morning was over. Hano heard them rise, preparatory to going back to the camp for the noon meal and the afternoon siesta. He heard them put something away in the rocks and pile other rocks around it. That at least was clear to him, his wits sharpened by his desire. He waited until they had gone, calculated the time it would take them to disappear in the clump of trees, and then climbed back to the little amphitheater.
His first business was to search for what had been concealed. Without a clew it never would have occurred to him to do so, nor had he wit or experience enough, as a higher intelligence would have shown, to go directly to the spot where the loose stones were piled artificially; but he had the patience to leave no stone unturned, and his persistent search under that burning sun was at last rewarded. After moving some of the larger stones, the books were at last revealed to him. He was struck dumb with terror. He knew very well what they were. He recognized them instantly. He had seen them at a distance upon the altar of the taboo house.
In his half-savage way he wondered that the blasphemers who had broken the taboo had not been struck dead by the angry, mysterious god whom they worshiped. He could only attribute Truda's immunity to some powerful spell, or charm, cast over her by this mysterious visitor whom he regarded as a devil. He did not know what to do in the emergency. He realized that it was a matter for a wiser head than his, if such could be found on the island. Under other circumstances, unconsciously acknowledging Truda's superiority, he would have gone straight to her, but that was not to be thought of now. His only recourse was Kobo.
Putting back the stones which covered the sacred volumes, he turned and ran with all speed to the settlement. The noon meal was over. The islanders were resting in their houses. All was quiet, still. Without a moment's hesitation, breaking what was almost a taboo itself, Hano dashed into Kobo's house, knelt down by him, shaking the old man violently.
"Awake," he whispered. "The taboo has been broken."
TWICE SAVED BY TRUDA
Not being tropic-born, Beekman did not take naturally to the siesta. Nor had he been long enough in the tropics to have acquired the habit. It was his pleasant custom to lie awake during the rest period, day-dreaming of the princess of this enchanted island. Sometimes he never even dozed, the occupation was so entrancing. It happened on that afternoon, however, that he had fallen asleep.
He was not left to his own devices. He was awakened to find himself covered with something thick and heavy, and his first movement was greeted with savage cries which came to him through a grass mat which had apparently been thrown over his face. At his first movement he was conscious that men had thrown themselves upon him from every side. Half choked and weighed down by a number of heavy bodies, he yet struck out blindly with arms and legs. He was a powerful man, but he was taken at a disadvantage, and, although he upheaved himself mightily and strained like a Titan, he did not succeed in getting free.
On the contrary, a rope made of cocoanut fiber was passed around his legs. The slip-noose was tightly drawn and, almost before it could be told, his feet were bound tightly together. He perceived that it was useless to struggle longer. As he ceased his wild efforts the cloth was dragged from his face and he instantly sat up. Before he had time to do more than recognize the angry faces of the men on the island, another rope was slipped over his shoulders. As before, the noose was drawn tight, and before he could prevent it his arms were bound and the rope wrapped around his body again and again.
He was as helpless as a trussed fowl. His first thought as he stared at the passion-convulsed faces of the men was of shame that he had allowed himself to be so easily caught; his second emotion was surprise. What had transformed these peaceful, listless, indifferent, gentle, decadent islanders into truculent savages? For the moment he did not connect the violation of their sanctuary with his present plight. The whole male population of the island had fallen on him; even the larger boys had joined their elders. If he had been on his feet and ready and possessed of a weapon, even his sheath knife or his boat hook, perhaps he could have beaten them off, for there were fewer than a score of them, and the only one who had any real vigor in him was Hano. Obviously, he had taken the lead in the capture. Hano's determination and old Kobo's cunning had brought about Beekman's undoing.
The American could not yet regard the situation as particularly serious. Passion and anger and bloodshed were so far removed from any possible association with those islanders that Beekman could only consider his present plight as a temporary inconvenience. To be sure, Hano hated him, but the others not only liked but almost revered him. He would not have been human if he had not been glad to see Hano limping from a particularly vicious kick he had received. Indeed, he laughed as he saw him rubbing his leg, and that only infuriated the young man the more, which was not wise on the part of the prisoner. He had yet to learn that even perverted religion, especially when it serves as a cloak for other passions, as in the case of Hano, could change the natures of men and bring about the most malefic consequences to those who stood in its way. It is always the abuse of the useful that is most dangerous.
About the only thing really strong in the lives of these islanders was their curious mixture of Polynesian idolatry with degenerate recollections of Christianity. Like a half-truth, their religion in theory seemed to combine the worst elements of the savage inheritance with debased Christianity. They did not indulge in the savage rites of the South Seas, those hideous practices had been abandoned under the influence of civilization, but in theory at least the worst features of that religion persisted.
The only laws upon the island were, first, the law of ceremonial religious observances, which was as easy as it was uncomprehended, and which no one had any interest in violating; and, second, the law which made a taboo of the temple, which was infinitely more important. The more unfamiliar they were with the temple, the more dread with which they regarded it. The mysterious taboo was the most powerful thing in their lives. The temple was, as it should be, the house of their god, but there was a mixture of the stern severity of the Christian-for Christianity was held very strenuously in the days in which that Dutch ship blew to the island-and the tremendous diabolism of the Polynesian Tangaroa. The rule of that compounded god was fear-begotten, a rule of consuming fire. They had by no means learned the perfect love which would cast it out.
When Hano whispered into the ear of Kobo that the taboo had been broken, the shrine had been violated, the sacred-he did not call them books-objects, the property of the god, had been taken from the temple and made a plaything of by the stranger and Truda, the old man's soul fainted within him. So soon as he had realized the purport of Hano's excited words, he had almost collapsed. It had needed the young man's fiery urgency to awaken him to the obligation of doing something.
Just what should be done did not come to old Kobo. It would have to be debated by all the worshipers of the god-the men, that is. But one need was obvious. The blasphemer, the violator of the sanctuary, the breaker of the taboo, must be secured before he could work further mischief. Doubtless into these dark and degenerate minds had lodged the idea-among the very oldest of all religious ideas-of propitiation. They could perhaps placate the angry god and avert from themselves the consequences of his anger by punishing the man who had dared to raise his hand against divinity.
It is on record that One Who His enemies said sought to make Himself equal with God was punished by man, and perhaps for the same reason.
That idea, so agreeable to the natural man, had been strengthened by the struggle which had resulted in the binding of the criminal. Conflict always calls for punishment of the vanquished. Without shedding of blood is no remission. Battles are measured by butchers' bills, and the fact that men fight makes the butcher a welcome assistant.
The women and children of the settlement, not having been summoned to the conference of men which Hano had brought to Kobe's hut, were not fully aware of the reason for the commotion. They clustered about the door of Beekman's hut, peering within, but not daring to enter. Indeed, Hano, at Kobe's direction, drove them back with the curt statement that the men would explain to them later what was the cause of their action and what was toward.
Beekman's glances had eagerly searched the little huddle of women at the door, but he had not found Truda among them, for a very good reason. At Hano's suggestion, Kobo had bade two of the sturdier women keep Truda a close prisoner in her own hut until he should decide what was to be done with her for her participation in the dread crime.
Speaking in Dutch-Polynesian, of which he had easily learned enough for ordinary purposes, Beekman now demanded to know the meaning of the extraordinary assault upon him. The men had been consulting in low tones in the far corner of the hut. Old Kobo detached himself from the group and came forward, Hano following and standing next to him.
"You have broken the taboo. You have taken the treasures of our god. He will be angry with us. We have decided to kill you in order that he may not hurt us."
The conclusion was strictly in accord with the ancient law of self-preservation.
"If he is angry with me," said Beekman at once, perceiving the seriousness of the situation, "he will hurt me, not you. Therefore you have no reason to be afraid. Let the god himself kill me."
It was shrewdly suggested, but there was not wit enough, except perhaps in Hano, to follow the reasoning. Kobo shook his head.
"You have broken the taboo. Who breaks the taboo must die. It is the only way."
There was a simple finality about the statement of the old semi-savage which at last struck terror to Beekman's heart. His blood ran cold. He knew what atrocities were sometimes perpetrated under the name of religion in the South Seas. The situation suddenly seemed to him to be absolutely hopeless. Arguments and appeals flashed through his brain, came to his lips, yet something withheld utterance. In the first place, he was a white man and he would not beg his life of these mongrels. In the second place, the only argument he could think of had been used without effect. Then his mind flashed to Truda. Was she involved? How did these islanders learn of the theft of the books? for of course he knew instantly that was what Kobo meant. And did they know of her part in the adventure? Her absence was convincing proof that she too was suspected and in mortal peril. He must find out for sure, if possible, before anything else.
"You say that I have taken things belonging to the god?" he began.
"Yes, and broken the taboo."
"Things from the taboo house, that lay on the stone at the other end. I have seen them there every time I have gone in."
"And I also," said Hano.
"And we," chimed in the men.
"Where are they now?"
"Hidden in the rocks," answered Hano, "where Truda watches the rising sun."
"How do you know that?"
"I saw them there. I heard you and Truda this morning."
"Impossible!" cried Beekman. "Where were you? I looked everywhere."
"I was hidden below on the face of the rocks. There is a place there."
"I see," said Beekman. "And Truda, what of her?"
"Did she go into the temple?"
"No," said Beekman, quickly and unhesitatingly, lying like a gentleman to save her if he could. "I went alone. She was afraid. She tried to stop me. She begged me not to."
"She should have told me," said Kobo, "but because she did not go, she shall not die."
"Give her to me," cried Hano. "This stranger has cast a spell upon her."
"I shall know how to free her," said Kobo.
"Meanwhile, may I ask what death is designed for me?" asked Beekman.
"You have said it," answered Kobo gravely; "the god will determine that."
He nodded his head to the men. Six of them stepped over and picked Beekman up. They bore him out into the open enclosure. At Kobo's direction Hano summoned the women. Truda did not come, and neither were her guardians present. As those women who had been detailed to watch her were among the most prominent in the settlement, Beekman, lying on the ground with his head and shoulders against a tree, noted their absence. As the islanders assembled Kobo waved his hand for silence.
"This man," he said, not without a certain dignity, "was cast up by the sea upon our shores. We received him kindly. We gave him a house to live in. We supplied him with things to eat. He was free to come and go. In return for our welcome he has broken the taboo." A wail of horror came from one old woman. It was caught up by the others, and even the men and children joined in. It was quite evident that the crime was a real one in the eyes of the people and there would be no hesitation in the most extreme methods. "The god will be angry with us," continued Kobo when he could be heard again. "Perhaps we can please him by giving him this breaker of the taboo."
"What would you do, O Kobo?" asked one of the older women.
"Lay him as he is, bound hand and foot, in the taboo house for the god to dispose of. It wants ten days before we worship in the temple. We will leave him there during that time, bound, alone. If he is alive then we will know the god has pardoned him."
"But if he should get away?" asked one of the men.
"We will be the arms and eyes of the god. We will watch every moment the taboo house."
"And food?" asked one.
"And drink?" asked another.
"If the god wishes him to live, he will provide," said the old man simply. He signed to the bearers. "The taboo is broken, so all may come in this time."
They picked up the absolutely helpless Beekman and bore him to the temple. Kobo unbarred the door. He stood hesitating a moment on the threshold. The taboo was broken indeed, or had been, yet it was a great thing he was about to do. He could only trust to the god that he would understand. With a muttered jargon of prayer, at which the people sank shuddering to their knees, and which to Beekman was grotesquely and horribly Christian, he finally entered the building, beckoning the bearers, who followed, stepping hesitantly and fearsomely with their heavy burden. After them crowded all the rest.
"We will lay him there," said Kobo, pointing to the opening in the railing or balustrade.
He stepped forward to give direction, and as his eyes became accustomed to the dim light he discovered on the altar or table the two books that Hano had declared he had seen in the rocks. He stopped, petrified. Hano had lied. There had been no profanation of the temple. He had broken the taboo himself, and without cause. His veins turned to water within him. He staggered and would have fallen but for the strong arm of the younger man.скачать книгу бесплатно