A baleful light gleamed in the cannibal’s eye. But he thought it best to temporize. Powerful as he was on his island, there was one thing yet more powerful by far than he; and that was Taboo—the custom and superstition handed down from his ancestors, These strangers were Korong; he dare not touch them, except in the way and manner and time appointed by custom. If he did, god as he was, his people themselves would turn and rend him. He was a god, but he was bound on every side by the strictest taboos. He dare not himself offer violence to Felix.
So he turned with a smile and bided his time. He knew it would come. He could afford to laugh. Then, going to the door, he said, with his grand affable manner to his chiefs around, “I have spoken with the gods, my ministers, within. They have kissed my hands. My rain has fallen. All is well in the land. Arise, let us go away hence to my temple.”
The savages put themselves in marching order at once. “It is the voice of a god,” they said, reverently. “Let us take back Tu-Kila-Kila to his temple home. Let us escort the lord of the divine umbrella. Wherever he is, there trees and plants put forth green leaves and flourish. At his bidding flowers bloom and springs of water rise up in fountains. His presence diffuses heavenly blessings.”
“I think,” Felix said, turning to poor, terrified Muriel, “I’ve sent the wretch away with a bee in his bonnet.”
THE CUSTOMS OF BOUPARI.
Human nature cannot always keep on the full stretch of excitement. It was wonderful to both Felix and Muriel how soon they settled down into a quiet routine of life on the island of Boupari. A week passed away—two weeks—three weeks—and the chances of release seemed to grow slenderer and slenderer. All they could do now was to wait for the stray accident of a passing ship, and then try, if possible, to signal it, or to put out to it in a canoe, if the natives would allow them.
Meanwhile, their lives for the moment seemed fairly safe. Though for the first few days they lived in constant alarm, this feeling, after a time, gave way to one of comparative security. The strange institution of Taboo protected them more efficiently in their wattled huts than the whole police force of London could have done in a Belgravian mansion. There thieves break through and steal, in spite of bolts and bars and metropolitan constables; but at Boupari no native, however daring or however wicked, would ever venture to transgress the narrow line of white coral sand which protected the castaways like an intangible wall from all outer interference. Within this impalpable ring-fence they were absolutely safe from all rude intrusion, save that of the two Shadows, who waited upon them, day and night, with unfailing willingness.