“And if you do, what of it? So long as your seed does not perish. I shall pay for the wives to their fathers and send them to you in three days.”
“I will have nothing to do with them,” Nalasu asserted wildly.
“You will,” Bashti insisted calmly. “Because if you do not you will have to pay me. It will be a sore, hard debt. I will have every joint of you unhinged so that you will be like a jelly-fish, like a fat pig with the bones removed, and I will then stake you out in the midmost centre of the dog-killing ground to swell in pain under the sun. And what is left of you I shall fling to the dogs to eat. Your seed shall not perish out of Somo. I, Bashti, so tell you. In three days I shall send to you your two wives. . . . "
He paused, and a long silence fell upon them.
“Well?” Bashti reiterated. “It is wives or staking out unhinged in the sun. You choose, but think well before you choose the unhinging.”
“At my age, with all the vexations of youngness so far behind me!” Nalasu complained.
“Choose. You will find there is vexation, and liveliness and much of it, in the centre of the dog-killing yard when the sun cooks your sore joints till the grease of the leanness of you bubbles like the tender fat of a cooked sucking-pig.”
“Then send me the wives,” Nalasu managed to utter after a long pause. “But send them in three days, not in two, nor to-morrow.”
“It is well,” Bashti nodded gravely. “You have lived at all only because of those before you, now long in the dark, who worked so that the tribe might live and you might come to be. You are. They paid the price for you. It is your debt. You came into being with this debt upon you. You will pay the debt before you pass out of being. It is the law. It is very well.”
And had Bashti hastened delivery of the wives by one day, or by even two days, Nalasu would have entered the feared, purgatory of matrimony. But Bashti kept his word, and on the third day was too busy, with a more momentous problem, to deliver Bubu and Nena to the blind old man who apprehensively waited their coming. For the morning of the third day all the summits of leeward Malaita smoked into speech. A warship was on the coast—so the tale ran; a big warship that was heading in through the reef islands at Langa-Langa. The tale grew. The warship was not stopping at Langa-Langa. The warship was not stopping at Binu. It was directing its course toward Somo.
Nalasu, blind, could not see this smoke speech written in the air. Because of the isolation of his house, no one came and told him. His first warning was when shrill voices of women, cries of children, and wailings of babes in nameless fear came to him from the main path that led from the village to the upland boundaries of Somo. He read only fear and panic from the sounds, deduced that the village was fleeing to its mountain fastnesses, but did not know the cause of the flight.