Felix laid his poor Muriel tenderly down on the mud floor again. “I must go out, my child,” he said. “For the very love of you, I must play the man, and find out what these savages mean by their drumming.”
He crept to the door of the hut (for no man could walk upright before that awful storm), and peered out into the darkness once more, awaiting one of the frequent flashes of lightning. He had not long to wait. In a moment the sky was all ablaze again from end to end, and continued so for many seconds consecutively. By the light of the continuous zigzags of fire, Felix could see for himself that hundreds and hundreds of natives—men, women, and children, naked, or nearly so, with their hair loose and wet about their cheeks—lay flat on their faces, many courses deep, just outside the taboo line. The wind swept over them with extraordinary force, and the tropical rain descended in great floods upon their bare backs and shoulders. But the savages, as if entranced, seemed to take no heed of all these earthly things. They lay grovelling in the mud before some unseen power; and beating their tom-toms in unison, with barbaric concord, they cried aloud once more as Felix appeared, in a weird litany that overtopped the tumultuous noise of the tempest, “Oh, Storm-God, hear us! Oh, great spirit, deliver us! King of the Rain and Queen of the Clouds, befriend us! Be angry no more! Hide your wrath from your people! Take away your hurricane, and we will bring you many gifts. Eat no longer of the storm-apple—the seed of the wind—and we will feed you with yam and turtle, and much choice bread-fruit. Great king, we are yours; you shall choose which you will of our children for your meat and drink; you shall sup on our blood. But take your storm away; do not utterly drown and submerge our island!”
As they spoke they crawled nearer and nearer, with gliding serpentine motion, till their heads almost touched the white line of coral. But not a man of them all went one inch beyond it. They stopped there and gazed at him. Felix signed to them with his hand, and pointed vaguely to the sky, as much as to say he was not responsible. At the gesture the whole assembly burst into one loud shout of gratitude. “He has heard us, he has heard us!” they exclaimed, with a perfect wail of joy. “He will not utterly destroy us. He will take away his storm. He will bring the sun and the moon back to us.”
Felix returned into the hut, somewhat reassured so far as the attitude of the savages went. “Don’t be afraid of them, Muriel,” he cried, taking her passionately once more in a tender embrace. “They daren’t cross the taboo. They won’t come near; they’re too frightened themselves to dream of hurting us.”
AFTER THE STORM.