But the bride drew back as before in speechless terror, as he held out his hand, and seemed just on the point of bursting out into tears again at this untoward incident. The Shadow intervened with fortunate perception of the cause of the misunderstanding. “Korong must not touch or give anything to a bride,” he said, quietly; “not with his own hand. He must not lay his finger on her; that would be unlucky. But he may hand it by his Shadow.” Then he turned to his fellow-tribesmen. “These gods,” he said, in an explanatory voice, like one bespeaking forgiveness, “though they are divine, and Korong, and very powerful—see, they have come from the sun, and they are but strangers in Boupari—they do not yet know the ways of our island. They have not eaten of human flesh. They do not understand Taboo. But they will soon be wiser. They mean very well, but they do not know. Behold, he gives her this divine shining ornament from the sun as a present!” And, taking it in his hand, he held it up for a moment to public admiration. Then he passed on the trinket ostentatiously to the bride, who, smiling and delighted, hung it low on her breast among her other decorations.
The whole party seemed so surprised and gratified at this proof of condescension on the part of the divine stranger that they crowded round Felix once more, praising and thanking him volubly. Muriel, anxious to remove the bad impression she had created by touching the bride’s dress, hastily withdrew her own little brooch and offered it in turn to the Shadow as an additional present. But Toko, shaking his head vigorously, pointed with his forefinger many times to Mali. “Toko say him no can take it,” Mali explained hastily, in her broken English. “Him no your Shadow; me your Shadow; me do everything for you; me give it to the lady.” And, taking the brooch in her hand, she passed it over in turn amid loud cries of delight and shouts of approval.
Thereupon, the ceremony began all over again. They seemed by their intervention to have interrupted some set formula. At its close the women crowded around Muriel and took her hand in theirs, kissing it many times over, with tears in their eyes, and betraying an immense amount of genuine feeling. One phrase in Polynesian they repeated again and again; a phrase that made Felix’s cheek turn white, as he leaned over the poor English girl with a profound emotion.
“What does it mean that they say?” Muriel asked at last, perceiving it was all one phrase, many times repeated.
Felix was about to give some evasive explanation, when Mali interposed with her simple, unthinking translation. “Them say, Missy Queenie very good and kind. Make them sad to think. Make them cry to see her. Make them cry to see Missy Queenie Korong. Too good. Too pretty.”
“Why so?” Muriel exclaimed, drawing back with some faint presentiment of unspeakable horror.
Felix tried to stop her; but the girl would not be stopped. “Because, when Korong time up,” she answered, blurting it out, “Korong must—”