The Coral Island/Chapter 32
When we returned to the shore and related to our friend what had passed, he was greatly distressed, and groaned in spirit; but we had not sat long in conversation when we were interrupted by the arrival of Tararo on the beach, accompanied by a number of followers bearing baskets of vegetables and fruits on their heads.
We advanced to meet him, and he expressed, through our interpreter, much pleasure in seeing us.
“And what, is it that my friends wish to say to me?” he inquired.
The teacher explained that we came to beg that Avatea might be spared.
“Tell him,” said Jack, “that I consider that I have a right to ask this of him, having not only saved the girl’s life, but the lives of his own people also; and say that I wish her to be allowed to follow her own wishes, and join the Christians.”
While this was being translated the chief’s brow lowered, and we could see plainly that our request met with no favourable reception. He replied with considerable energy and at some length.
“What says he?” inquired Jack.
“I regret to say that he will not listen to the proposal. He says he has pledged his word to his friend that the girl shall be sent to him, and a deputy even now on this island awaiting the fulfilment of the pledge.”
Jack bit his lip in suppressed anger. “Tell Tararo,” he exclaimed with a flashing eye, “that if he does not grant my demand it will be worse for him. Say I have a big gun on board my schooner that will blow his village into the sea if he does not give up the girl.”
“Nay, my friend,” said the teacher gently, “I will not tell him that. We must ‘overcome evil with good.’”
“What does my friend say?” inquired the chief, who seemed nettled by Jack’s looks of defiance.
“He is displeased,” replied the teacher.
Tararo turned away with a smile of contempt, and walked towards the men who carried the baskets of vegetables, and who had now emptied the whole on the beach in an enormous pile.
“What are they doing there?” I inquired.
“I think that they are laying out a gift which they intend to present to some one,” said the teacher.
At this moment a couple of men appeared, leading a young girl between them, and going towards the heap of fruits and vegetables, placed her on top of it. We started with surprise and fear, for in the young female before us we recognised the Samoan girl, Avatea.
We stood rooted to the earth with surprise and thick-coming fears.
“Oh my dear young friend!” whispered the teacher in a voice of deep emotion; while he seized Jack by the arm, “she is to be made a sacrifice even now!”
“Is she?” cried Jack with a vehement shout, spurning the teacher aside, and dashing over two natives who stood in his way, while he rushed towards the heap, sprang up its side, and seized Avatea by the arm. In another moment he dragged her down, placed her back to a large tree, and wrenching a war-club from the hand of a native who seemed powerless and petrified with surprise, whirled it above his head, and yelled, rather than shouted, while his face blazed with fury, “Come on, the whole nation of you, an ye like it, and do your worst!”
It seemed as though the challenge had been literally accepted; for every savage on the ground ran precipitately at Jack with club and spear, and doubtless would speedily have poured out his brave blood on the sod had not the teacher rushed in between them, and raising his voice to its utmost, cried:
“Stay your hands, warriors! It is not your part to judge in this matter! It is for Tararo, the chief, to say whether or not the young man shall live or die!”
The natives were arrested; and I know not whether it was the gratifying acknowledgment of his superiority thus made by the teacher, or some lingering feeling of gratitude for Jack’s former aid in time of need, that influenced Tararo, but he stepped forward, and waving his hand, said to his people, “Desist. The young man’s life is mine.” Then turning to Jack, he said, “You have forfeited your liberty and life to me. Submit yourself, for we are more numerous than the sand upon the shore. You are but one: why should you die?”
“Villain!” exclaimed Jack passionately. “I may die, but assuredly I shall not perish alone! I will not submit until you promise that this girl shall not be injured!”
“You are very bold,” replied the chief haughtily, “but very foolish. Yet I will say that Avatea shall not be sent away—at least, for three days.”
“You had better accept these terms,” whispered the teacher entreatingly. “If you persist in this mad defiance, you will be slain and Avatea will be lost. Three days are worth having.”
Jack hesitated a moment, then lowered his club, and throwing it moodily to the ground, crossed his arms on his breast and hung down his head in silence.
Tararo seemed pleased by his submission, and told the teacher to say that he did not forget his former services, and therefore would leave him free as to his person, but that the schooner would be detained till he had further considered the matter.
While the teacher translated this, he approached as near to where Avatea was standing as possible without creating suspicion, and whispered to her a few words in the native language. Avatea, who, during the whole of the foregoing scene, had stood leaning against the tree perfectly passive, and seemingly quite uninterested in all that was going on, replied by a single rapid glance of her dark eye, which was instantly cast down again on the ground at her feet.
Tararo now advanced, and taking the girl by the hand, led her unresistingly away; while Jack, Peterkin, and I returned with the teacher on board the schooner.
On reaching the deck we went down to the cabin, where Jack threw himself, in a state of great dejection, on a couch; but the teacher seated himself by his side, and laying his hand upon his shoulder, said:
“Do not give way to anger, my young friend. God has given us three days, and we must use the means that are in our power to free this poor girl from slavery. We must not sit in idle disappointment; we must act—”
“Act!” cried Jack, raising himself and tossing back his hair wildly. “It is mockery to talk of acting when one is bound hand and foot. How can I act? I cannot fight a whole nation of savages single-handed. Yes,” he said with a bitter smile, “I can fight them; but I cannot conquer them, or save Avatea.”
“Patience, my friend: your spirit is not a good one just now. You cannot expect that blessing which alone can ensure success unless you are more submissive. I will tell you my plans if you will listen.”
“Listen!” cried Jack eagerly. “Of course I will, my good fellow! I did not know you had any plans. Out with them! I only hope you will show me how I can get the girl on board of this schooner, and I’d up anchor and away in no time. But proceed with your plans.”
The teacher smiled sadly. “Ah, my friend, if one fathom of your anchor-chain were to rattle as you drew it in, a thousand warriors would be standing on your deck! No, no; that could not be done. Even now your ship would be taken from you were it not that Tararo has some feeling of gratitude towards you. But I know Tararo well. He is a man of falsehood, as all the unconverted savages are. The chief to whom he has promised this girl is very powerful, and Tararo must fulfil his promise. He has told you that he would do nothing to the girl for three days, but that is because the party who are to take her away will not be ready to start for three days. Still, as he might have made you a prisoner during those three days, I say that God has given them to us.”
“Well, but what do you propose to do?” said Jack impatiently.
“My plan involves much danger; but I see no other, and I think you have courage to brave it. It is this. There is an island about fifty miles to the south of this, the natives of which are Christians, and have been so for two years or more, and the principal chief is Avatea’s lover. Once there, Avatea would be safe. Now, I suggest that you should abandon your schooner. Do you think that you can make so great a sacrifice?”
“Friend,” replied Jack, “when I make up my mind to go through with a thing of importance, I can make any sacrifice.”
The teacher smiled. “Well, then, the savages could not conceive it possible that for the sake of a girl you would voluntarily lose your fine vessel; therefore, as long as she lies here, they think they have you all safe. So I suggest that we get a quantity of stores conveyed to a sequestered part of the shore, provide a small canoe, put Avatea on board, and you three would paddle to the Christian island.”
“Bravo!” cried Peterkin, springing up and seizing the teacher’s hand. “Missionary, you’re a regular brick! I didn’t think you had so much in you!”
“As for me,” continued the teacher, “I will remain on board till they discover that you are gone. Then they will ask me where you are gone to, and I will refuse to tell.”
“And what’ll be the result of that?” inquired Jack.
“I know not. Perhaps they will kill me; but,” he added, looking at Jack with a peculiar smile, “I too am not afraid to die in a good cause!”
“But how are we to get hold of Avatea?” inquired Jack.
“I have arranged with her to meet us at a particular spot, to which I will guide you to-night. We shall then arrange about it. She will easily manage to elude her keepers, who are not very strict in watching her, thinking it impossible that she could escape from the island. Indeed, I am sure that such an idea will never enter their heads. But, as I have said, you run great danger. Fifty miles in a small canoe, on the open sea, is a great voyage to make. You may miss the island, too, in which case there is no other in that direction for a hundred miles or more; and if you lose your way and fall among other heathens, you know the law of Feejee—a castaway who gains the shore is doomed to die. You must count the cost, my young friend.”
“I have counted it,” replied Jack. “If Avatea consents to run the risk, most certainly I will; and so will my comrades also. Besides,” added Jack, looking seriously into the teacher’s face, “your Bible—our Bible—tells of One who delivers those who call on Him in the time of trouble; who holds the winds in His fists, and the waters in the hollow of His hand.”
We now set about active preparations for the intended voyage: collected together such things as we should require, and laid out on the deck provisions sufficient to maintain us for several weeks, purposing to load the canoe with as much as she could hold consistently with speed and safety. These we covered with a tarpaulin, intending to convey them to the canoe only a few hours before starting. When night spread her sable curtain over the scene, we prepared to land; but first kneeling along with the natives and the teacher, the latter implored a blessing on our enterprise. Then we rowed quietly to the shore and followed our sable guide, who led us by a long detour in order to avoid the village, to the place of rendezvous. We had not stood more than five minutes under the gloomy shade of the thick foliage when a dark figure glided noiselessly up to us.
“Ah, here you are!” said Jack as Avatea approached.—“Now, then, tell her what we’ve come about, and don’t waste time.”
“I understan’ leetl’ English,” said Avatea in a low voice.
“Why, where did you pick up English?” exclaimed Jack in amazement. “You were dumb as a stone when I saw you last.”
“She has learned all she knows of it from me,” said the teacher, “since she came to the island.”
We now gave Avatea a full explanation of our plans, entering into all the details, and concealing none of the danger, so that she might be fully aware of the risk she ran. As we had anticipated, she was too glad of the opportunity thus afforded her to escape from her persecutors to think of the danger or risk.
“Then you’re willing to go with us, are you?” said Jack.
“Yis, I willing to go.”
“And you’re not afraid to trust yourself out on the deep sea so far?”
“No, I not ’fraid to go. Safe with Christian.”
After some further consultation the teacher suggested that it was time to return, so we bade Avatea good-night; and having appointed to meet at the cliff where the canoe lay on the following night, just after dark, we hastened away—we to row back to the schooner with muffled oars, Avatea to glide back to her prison-hut among the Mango savages.