By the World Forgot: A Double Romance of the East and Westскачать книгу бесплатно
"There," he whispered, pointing, "the things of the gods are there. You have lied."
It was Hano's turn to be stricken with terror. Had his eyes deceived him? Could those objects have been duplicated? What mystery, what magic was here? He was younger, stronger, and the sooner realized the necessity for action.
"Out!" he cried, waving his hand.
"Shall we leave him?" asked the first bearer.
"No; bring him, and out, everybody, lest the god strike and spare not."
He suited action to word. Half carrying old Kobo, he drove the rest out of the temple. Kobo dropped on the threshold. Hano had nerve and courage to swing the door, and then he backed up against it, ashy with terror. Old Kobo rose to his feet.
"People of the island," he cried shrilly, "we have broken the taboo. Hano has spoken falsely. The things of the god are there. O Tangaroa, pardon." He bowed his head in his hands. "Woe, woe, woe!" he cried.
For a moment the islanders stood silent, and then they joined his lamentations.
"Perhaps you will release me now," said Beekman at last.
Old Kobo's hand went out to the lashing.
"Forgive me. This liar will take your place."
"Wait," said Hano, his courage coming back. "I saw the things of the god in the rocks. I heard them moving in the hands of this man and Truda. She can testify."
"Where is she?" asked Beekman.
"Let someone go for Truda. Let her be brought here," said Kobo.
One of the younger women started in the direction of Truda's hut, when, from a clump of trees to the right of the temple, around which the path ran, appeared the two women who had been appointed to watch Truda. The girl herself was between them. Each one clasped an arm. She came along the path without reluctance, her head held high. She shot a glance at her lover which reassured him. He instantly realized the explanation of the happy chance which had saved him, temporarily at least.
Truda had somehow escaped, had got the books, entered the church through the rear doorway as before, and had replaced the books on the altar. What it had cost her he could well understand. Old Kobo stared at the three in amazement.
"How did you come here?" he cried to the two women. "I told you to keep Truda in her house."
"While we watched the door, O Kobo, she escaped through the window. When we found out we searched for her."
"We saw her-" the woman hesitated.
"Where was she?"
"At the back of the taboo house," Answered the younger woman in awe-struck voice, "with the things of the god in her arms."
"You see," cried Hano, triumphantly, "I told you the truth. She went to the rock to fetch them. She put them back."
"How did she get in?" asked one old man.
"There is an entrance at the other end, vine-covered and forgotten," answered Kobo, his eyes sparkling. It had been shown him as a boy, and had never been used.
"We were afraid to follow.
When she came out we seized her and brought her here."
"What have you to say, Truda?"
"It is true," answered the girl.
"What is the use of questioning Truda?" interposed Beekman, stopping the confession which trembled on her lips. "I took the books; I hid them in the rocks. Through them your God, which is my God, speaks to me. I tried to teach Truda His speech. I will teach you all if you will free me."
"Let us put him back in the taboo house," cried one of the oldest.
"Yes, that will be best," cried a second.
"Leave him with the god," urged a third.
"I, too," cried Truda; "I also-"
"Be silent!" appealed Beekman in the language they two alone understood. "If you love me, say nothing. Alive, you can help me. Dead, and we die together."
"What do you say?" asked Kobo of the men.
"I have a suggestion to make," said Hano.
"What is that?"
"You thought that my tongue was doubled, that I did not speak the truth-"
"We were wrong," said Kobo.
"Let me speak now," said Hano.
"Let us hear him," cried one after another.
"Out of the deep this man came to us. Doubtless his God brought him to our shores. Let us commit him to the deep again. Doubtless his God can take him away."
"What do you mean?"
"Let us cast him down from the cliff into the gulf below."
"That is well," said Kobo.
"It is," shouted one after another.
They loosened the lashings around Beekman's feet, lifted him up, and forced him, surrounded by the men, along the path that led to the little amphitheatre. Everybody followed. This was business of the highest importance, and until it was settled, nothing mattered. When they got to the little amphitheatre, in which all crowded who could possibly enter, the lashings around Beekman's feet were drawn tight again.
"What do you mean to do?" he asked.
"Thrust you over the cliff."
It was a fall of perhaps over five hundred feet sheer down. If he were thrown far enough he might fall into the water, but even that would kill him. In all probability he would drop to the rocks. There was that shelf of which Hano had spoken where he had concealed himself. By bending forward from his place on the brink, Beekman could see it. So could Hano.
"Not here," said the latter, "but there."
They dragged Beekman over to a spot where nothing broke the descent.
"Bring staves for all," said Kobo with obvious meaning.
All the men must join in the thrust, it seemed. It would be the only way to avert the anger of Tangaroa-God from them all. Meanwhile they laid Beekman carefully back against the rocks while some of the men ran back for long pieces of stout bamboo or cane. Their intent was evident. When the time came they would each one seize a staff and together they would thrust him over. So all would participate, and from all the vengeance of the gods would be turned away.
"Truda," began Beekman in that language which they alone understood, "there is no help for it. I must die. It is not the end I expected. I hoped to get away from the island, to take you with me, to teach you of the things that lay beyond, to make you my wife. I love you, facing death as I am I say it with all my heart. You can do nothing for me. But no matter what happens to me or what happens to you, there is another life. I have tried to tell you about it and I shall wait for you there."
"And I love you, Beek-man," answered Truda in return just as simply as he had spoken. "You know that. I would gladly give my life for yours, and I shall follow very soon. You will wait for me?"
"Stop them," said Hano at last.
"Let him talk with his God, if he will, in these last moments," answered Kobo.
"But not with Truda," persisted Hano.
"When Truda is yours you can make her forget what she had learned."
"But I will never belong to Hano," cried Truda.
With a quick movement she broke loose from the women who held her on the outskirts of the crowd. She leaped up the wall of the amphitheatre that wound around a little distance away from the rest, and there she stood poised.
"Truda," cried Beekman, who was placed where he could see her every movement, "what would you do?"
"Stop," cried the girl in the language of the island, as Hano started for her, followed by the others coming up with the staves. "Let no one come near me. Hano and Kobo, stand forth."
Such was her imperious emphasis that her command was at once obeyed. The two addressed separated themselves from the crowd, which halted, but Hano again started for the girl.
"If you come nearer, I shall leap over," she said quickly. "Stand where you are, Hano."
He stopped in the face of this threat and stood as if rooted to the spot.
"Beek-man has broken the taboo," said the girl in the deep silence. "Perhaps you do right to punish him-"
"O Truda," groaned Beekman under his breath, but if the girl heard, she made no sign.
"He came from the deep. You may return him there, but he came alive, and you must return him alive."
"What do you mean?"
"You must send him down through the place where the water falls. You must unbind him. You must give him what he brought, the sharp thing that cuts and the bright thing that strikes. You must give him food."
"But he will come back," said one.
"You can watch the place."
"We can wall it up with stones," said Kobo.
"Will you give this man life?" cried Hano.
"If you do not," continued Truda, "if you do not swear by the god to do as I say-"
"I will throw myself over the cliff before your eyes."
"O Truda!" exclaimed Beekman again, but in a different way, for now he understood.
Now the most determined character of them all was Hano. There was an assurance in the girl's words that carried conviction to his mind, at least. If she threw herself over the cliff, she would be hopelessly lost to him, and the fact that he could wreak vengeance on Beekman would not bring her back.
"Let it be as she says, O Kobo."
The old man was naturally inclined to mercy. The fierce passion of the morning had spent itself. The taboo had been broken, but nothing had happened. The things of the god were back in their places. Truda's suggestion might have persuaded him without the threat. But the threat had persuaded Hano.
"It shall be as you say," answered Kobo.
"Swear it," cried Truda.
"By the broken taboo, by the god whose things you have put back, by the great Tangaroa himself, I swear it," cried Kobo, turning to the others.
"We all swear."
Truda instantly stepped back from the verge.
"And you will marry me, Truda; you will be my woman?"
"We shall see as to that when you have disposed of Beekman," said the girl. "You will wait for me," she said to Beekman; "not in another life, but there." She glanced downward.
Beekman nodded. He understood.
"What do you say?" asked Hano jealously.
"I only gave him a message for his God," answered Truda.
TRUDA COMES TO HIS PRISON
And thus it came about that Beekman once more found himself lying on the strand near the waterfall at the foot of the cliff in the great cup-like harbor where he had landed on the island not many months before. Although the lashings had not been cast off by those who had lowered him to the strand, yet they had been loosened in the descent, and he realized that by patient application he could presently free himself from his bonds. That, of course, was the first thing to be done.
When he had finally cast off the loose piece of coir rope, he rose to his feet and looked about him. The place was entirely familiar. It had been etched upon his consciousness in those agonized days when he had dreamed of getting to the top. There had been no change whatever. Indeed, since the blocking up of the original opening through which the Good Intent had been hurled so many years before, there had been no change, unless the slow disintegration of the rock had slightly altered the face of nature.
He had been dropped by the lowering ropes to the very spot where he had found the pineapple bedded in the sand. He had no immediate need of any such providential happening now, for behind him lay one of the cocoanut-fiber sacks or bags which had been packed full of food enough to last him for a week. Truda had insisted upon that, and they had grudgingly consented, all the women in the settlement being more or less openly on her side. But they had failed to give him either boat-hook or sheath-knife.
Beekman had no shelter, but he could get along very well without that. Here were food, water, liberty, life, within the circumscribed limits of the great cylinder. He had stepped back to the extreme edge of the stretch of sand, the tide being low, and scanned the bed of the creek up which he had once before climbed to the top. In the narrowest part he could see the natives piling up huge stones, making an impassable barricade. Of course, any considerable increase in the quantity of water flowing down would eventually roll them away. The island must have a rainy season, but unless or until it came, that wall of rock, especially if it should be guarded, as he fancied it would at first, would render ascent to the upland impossible.
There was absolutely nothing he could do. Unless help came to him from above, or from the sea, he would die of starvation eventually. He did not fear that, however, because he believed that Truda would find some means to get food to him. Indeed, going over the incidents of the afternoon, he marvelled at the resourcefulness and courage she had displayed. If it had not been for her escape from her guardians, and her replacement of the books in the temple, he would be now lying there bound hand and foot, slowly starving to death.
He knew how hard it must have been for Truda to have broken the taboo a second time, and alone. That was the first bold action which had saved him, and the second was when she had stood on the brink of the cliff and threatened to cast herself down unless he were lowered to the beach rather than thrown bodily over. And she would have done it, too, as he very well knew. That was the second time that day she had saved his life. True, she had been compelled to make some kind of a promise to marry Hano, but he knew her well enough to realize that she would never keep it. Love, such as had not been known upon that island for two hundred years of quiet mating, had entered her heart, and she was made of the stuff that would willingly die rather than profane it.
She said that she would join him on the strand, and he was confident that somehow she would, and that her presence would bring him fortune; yet, what would happen if she came? His own condition would be changed for the worse immediately, since he would have no friend above to look after his interests. It was to her influence alone that he could look for food. If she were with him, her open defiance of Kobo, Hano, and the others might, and probably would, result in the abandonment of them both. Yet, illogically, but naturally, he longed for her presence as never before. He was proud of her wit and courage, and he longed to tell her that-and other things. He did not think any of the islanders, unless it were Hano, would dare descend into the harbor, which he shrewdly suspected was as taboo as the temple. If any did come, they would have to come one by one, and he could deal with them, if necessary.
The day was almost gone. Before nightfall he was minded to do one thing. He clambered around the rocks to the outer edge of the island and stared eagerly at the barrier. Yes, there on the reef, where it had been hurled or lifted by an unusually great wave or tide coming at the same time, lay the wreck of the whaleboat. It had been firmly fixed on the jagged rocks of the barrier, and as it was just above the assault of any but the highest seas coming at the full flood of the tide, it was still in much the same condition as when he had left it some months before.
There was no way by which he could repair the boat and make it seaworthy. It was of no earthly use to him, yet the sight of it gave him strange comfort. It was something which somehow tied him to his own land and people. He waded and swam out to it and looked it over carefully, observing before he did so that the copper tanks which he had taken from the boat and put in the niche where he had slept the first night on the island, were still there and apparently in good condition. With some vague idea that it might be well if he replaced them in the boat, he swam back across the lagoon, launched the tanks, which floated, proving that they were air-tight; paddled across the lagoon a third time and set them back in their compartments. In one instance, the after end, he found this difficult as he had been compelled to break the catches aft to get it out, but at the other end, the bow compartment, he experienced no trouble. The boards had warped, but by exerting all his strength he got the clamps caught and the tanks replaced. Exactly why he did it, or what he expected from it, he could not tell, but, at any rate, it was occupation. The boat could not take anyone anywhere, but, unless the clamps broke, the tanks would keep it afloat, even if awash, if it were ever washed off that reef.
He got back to the ledge when night fell with the startling suddenness of the tropics. He had made up his mind to sleep where he had slept before: beneath the ledge; but thought better of it. He decided that he ought to be where he had been seen last in case Truda should make any effort to communicate with him. He reasoned, naturally enough, that such an effort would have to be made in the dark to avoid observation. The air at the bottom of the great cylinder, its sides rising about him like the walls of a tower, was cooler than he had been accustomed to. He emptied the mat-like sack, or basket, piling its precious contents high up on the rocks, above any possible tide, and, after he had made a very frugal meal, although he was ravenously hungry after all he had gone through, he ripped the mat apart, hollowed a place for himself in the sand, drew the mat over him and lay there thinking; and, for the first time in days, Stephanie Maynard came into his mind!
Now, there was no disloyalty to Truda in his thoughts of the other woman. He realized that he never had loved her, and he was pretty confident that she had never loved him. The marriage which had been arranged had been one of convenience, purely. He was glad that he had escaped; glad for every experience except that terrible one in the cabin of the Susquehanna. He wondered if, in her heart, Stephanie would not be glad also, and George Harnash. Little things which he had not noticed at the time bulked larger in his imagination now, and he wondered if his friend had not been more interested in his former betrothed than any one had suspected. He thought whimsically that it would be a strange thing if Stephanie and George married eventually, and then his thoughts went further.
Suppose they could prevail upon old Maynard to consent, they might come to search for him as a wedding trip on the great Maynard yacht, the Stephanie. It would be strange, he thought, lifting his head and peering seaward, to wake up some morning and find the yacht in the offing. He knew that was absurd. If he were to get off that island, it would have to be by some other means, and the possibility of escape had grown much fainter since his present misfortune. Well, whatever had been back of that shanghaiing process, and he was as bitterly resentful over it as if it had not brought him happiness, it had resulted in his meeting with the sweetest and most innocent woman on earth, whose love for him had led her to the most amazing sacrifices and exhibitions of courage.
It was a singular commentary on the man's mind that he was as bitter against the men who had shanghaied him as if only misery and sorrow had come to him. He had promised himself many a time if he ever did get free and could find out who was responsible, it would go hard with that man. He would not let the law take charge of his vengeance. He would make it a personal matter. One does not live in the forecastle of a hell-ship like the Susquehanna, where there is no law but that of force, and no right but that of the strong, without getting a new view of individual relation to individual and to the mass. Nor does one live in a tropic island with no law at all, except the taboos of vague superstition, without intensifying that personal element.
Presently, Beekman's thoughts turned to Truda. Lightly, he forgot Stephanie. All his hardships, the horrors of that forecastle, the tragedy of that cabin, even the events of the day, faded from his mind. He saw her white-skinned, golden-haired, blue-eyed and passing fair. He recalled her passionate devotion, her wit, her courage. He stared upward to the top of the cliff, cutting a black line across the stars at the place where he had seen her for the first time. He could shut his eyes and see her still. He tried it again and again, and by and by his eyes did not open. He fell sound asleep.
He was not aware that in the still watches of the night a figure bent over him. Someone knelt beside him. A listening ear was held close to him as if seeking for reassurance that he breathed, and then there was a stealthy withdrawal and the figure slipped down upon the sand and sat watching him. It was not until the sun struck through the entrance upon his face that he opened his eyes. The first object that met his vision was Truda. She was half seated, half reclining on the sand just out of touch, looking at him as she had watched throughout the night.
"Truda," he cried, raising himself at once and throwing aside the mat, "how did you come here?"
She pointed to the cliff, through which the brook plunged. He noticed a long rope hanging down, buffeted by the leaping waters into which it swayed back from time to time.
"Amazing," he cried, rising to his feet and stepping toward her.
"Do you think anything could keep me there when you were here?" said the girl, stretching out her hands to him, and then he noticed, for the first time, that her palms were cut and scratched and had been bleeding. Her knees, her feet, were in the same sorry condition. He sank down on his knees before her. He took the hands which she yielded to him without question and pressed them tenderly against his cheek.скачать книгу бесплатно