“Well,” the Frenchman went on, still stroking the parrot affectionately with his hand, and smoothing down the feathers on its ruffled back, “the strange Tu-Kila-Kila, who thus ruled in the island, though he learned to speak Polynesian well, had a language of his own, a language of the birds, which no man on earth could ever talk with him. So, to beguile his time and to have someone who could converse with him in his native dialect, he taught this parrot to speak his own tongue, and spent most of his days in talking with it and fondling it. At last, after he had instructed it by slow degrees how to repeat this long sermon or poem—which I have often heard it recite in a sing-song voice from beginning to end—his time came, as they say, and he had to give way to another Tu-Kila-Kila; for the Bouparese have a proverb like our own about the king, ‘The High God is dead; may the High God live forever!’ But before he gave up his Soul to his successor, and was eaten or buried, whichever is the custom, he handed over his pet to the King of the Birds, strictly charging all future bearers of that divine office to care for the parrot as they would care for a son or a daughter. And so the natives make much of the parrot to the present day, saying he is greater than any, save a Korong or a god, for he is the Soul of a dead race, summing it up in himself, and he knows the secret of the Death of Tu-Kila-Kila.”
“But you can’t tell me what language he speaks?” Felix asked with a despairing gesture. It was terrible to stand thus within measurable distance of the secret which might, perhaps, save Muriel’s life, and yet be perpetually balked by wheel within wheel of more than Egyptian mystery.
“Who can say?” the Frenchman answered, shrugging his shoulders helplessly. “It isn’t Polynesian; that I know well, for I speak Bouparese now like a native of Boupari; and it isn’t the only other language spoken at the present day in the South Seas—the Melanesian of New Caledonia—for that I learned well from the Kanakas while I was serving my time as a convict among them. All we can say for certain is that it may, perhaps, be some very ancient tongue. For parrots, we know, are immensely long-lived. Some of them, it is said, exceed their century. Is it not so, eh, my friend Methuselah?”
FACING THE WORST.
Muriel, meanwhile, sat alone in her hut, frightened at Felix’s unexpected disappearance so early in the morning, and anxiously awaiting her lover’s return, for she made no pretences now to herself that she did not really love Felix. Though the two might never return to Europe to be husband and wife, she did not doubt that before the eye of Heaven they were already betrothed to one another as truly as though they had plighted their troth in solemn fashion. Felix had risked his life for her, and had brought all this misery upon himself in the attempt to save her. Felix was now all the world that was left her. With Felix, she was happy, even on this horrible island; without him, she was miserable and terrified, no matter what happened.