And for hours they crouched around, beating their breasts and shrieking.
That evening, Muriel sat up late in Felix’s hut, with Mali by her side, too frightened to go back into her own alone before those angry people. And all the time, just beyond the barrier line, they could hear, above the whistle of the wind around the hut, the droning voices of dozens of natives, cowering low on the ground; they seemed to be going through some litany or chant, as if to deprecate the result of this imprudent action.
“What are they doing outside?” Felix asked of his Shadow at last, after a peculiarly long wail of misery.
And the Shadow made answer, in very solemn tones, “They are trying to propitiate your mightiness, and to avert the omen, lest the rain should fall, and the wind should blow, and the storm-cloud should burst over the island to destroy them.”
Then Felix remembered suddenly of himself that the season when this storm-fruit, or storm-apple, as they called it, was ripe in Fiji, was also the season when the great Pacific cyclones most often swept over the land in full fury—storms unexampled on any other sea, like that famous one which wrecked so many European men-of-war a few years since in the harbor of Samoa.
And without, the wail came louder and clearer still! “If you sow the bread-fruit seed, you will reap the breadfruit. If you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind. They have eaten the storm-fruit. Oh, great king, save us!”
REAPING THE WHIRLWIND.
Toward midnight Muriel began to doze lightly from pure fatigue.
“Put a pillow under her head, and let her sleep,” Felix said in a whisper. “Poor child, it would be cruel to send her alone to-night into her own quarters.”
And Mali slipped a pillow of mulberry paper under her mistress’s head, and laid it on her own lap, and bent down to watch her.
But outside, beyond the line, the natives murmured loud their discontent. “The Queen of the Clouds stays in the King of the Rain’s hut to-night,” they muttered, angrily. “She will not listen to us. Before morning, be sure, the Tempest will be born of their meeting to destroy us.”
About two o’clock there came a lull in the wind, which had been rising steadily ever since that lurid sunset. Felix looked out of the hut door. The moon was full. It was almost as clear as day with the bright tropical moonlight, silvery in the open, pale green in the shadow. The people were still squatting in great rings round the hut, just outside the taboo line, and beating gongs, and sticks and human bones, to keep time to the lilt of their lugubrious litany.
The air felt unusually heavy and oppressive. Felix raised his eyes to the sky, and saw whisps of light cloud drifting in rapid flight over the scudding moon. Below, an ominous fog bank gathered steadily westward. Then one clap of thunder rent the sky. After it came a deadly silence. The moon was veiled. All was dark as pitch. The natives themselves fell on their faces and prayed with mute lips. Three minutes later, the cyclone had burst upon them in all its frenzy.