And as they whispered and debated, awe-struck but discordant, a shout arose once more from the outer circle—a mighty shout of mingled surprise, alarm, and terror. “Taboo! Taboo! Fence the mysteries. Beware! Oh, great god, we warn you. The mysteries are in danger! Cut her down! Kill her! A woman! A woman!”
At the words, Felix was aware of somebody bursting through the dense crowd and rushing wildly toward him. Next moment, Muriel hung and sobbed on his shoulder, while Mali, just behind her, stood crying and moaning.
Felix held the poor startled girl in his arms and soothed her. And all around another great cry arose from five hundred lips: “Two women have profaned the mysteries of the god. They are Tu-Kila-Kila’s trespass-offering. Let us kill them and eat them!”
In a moment, Felix’s mind was fully made up. There was no time to think; it was the hour for action. He saw how he must comport himself toward this strange wild people. Seating Muriel gently on the ground, Mali beside her, and stepping forward himself, with Peyron’s hand in his, he beckoned to the vast and surging crowd to bespeak respectful silence.
A mighty hush fell at once upon the people. The King of Fire and the King of Water stood back, obedient to his nod. They waited for the upshot of this strange new development.
“Men of Boupari,” Felix began, speaking with a marvellous fluency in their own tongue, for the excitement itself supplied him with eloquence; “I have killed your late god in the prescribed way; I have plucked the sacred bough, and fought in single combat by the established rules of your own religion. Fire and Water, you guardians of this holy island, is it not so? You saw all things done, did you not, after the precepts of your ancestors?”
The King of Fire bowed low and answered: “Tu-Kila-Kila speaks, indeed, the truth. Water and I, with our own eyes, have seen it.”
“And now,” Felix went on, “I am myself, by your own laws, Tu-Kila-Kila.”
The King of Fire made a gesture of dissent. “Oh, great god, pardon me,” he murmured, “if I say aught, now, to contradict you; but you are not a full Tu-Kila-Kila yet till you have eaten of the heart of the god, your predecessor.”
“Then where is now the spirit of Tu-Kila-Kila, the very high god, if I am not he?” Felix asked, abruptly, thus puzzling them with a hard problem in their own savage theology.
The King of Fire gave a start, and pondered. This was a detail of his creed that had never before so much as occurred to him. All faiths have their cruces. “I do not well know,” he answered, “whether it is in the heart of Lavita, the son of Sami, or in your own body. But I feel sure it must now be certainly somewhere, though just where our fathers have never told us.”