In a moment, before he had time to know what was happening, Methuselah—sleepy old dotard as he seemed—had woke up at once to a sense of danger. Turning suddenly round upon the sleek, caressing hand, he darted his beak with a vicious peck at his assailant, and bit the divine finger of the Pillar of Heaven as carelessly as he would have bitten any child on Boupari. Tu-Kila-Kila, thunder-struck, drew back his arm with a start of surprise and a loud cry of pain. The bird had wounded him. He shook his hand and stamped. Blood was dropping on the ground from the man-god’s finger. He hardly knew what strange evil this omen of harm might portend for the world. The Soul of all dead parrots had carried out the curse, and had drawn red drops from the sacred veins of Tu-Kila-Kila.
One must be a savage one’s self, and superstitious at that, fully to understand the awful significance of this deadly occurrence. To draw blood from a god, and, above all, to let that blood fall upon the dust of the ground, is the very worst luck—too awful for the human mind to contemplate.
At the same moment, the parrot, awakened by the unexpected attack, threw back its head on its perch, and, laughing loud and long to itself in its own harsh way, began to pour forth a whole volley of oaths in a guttural language, of which neither Tu-Kila-Kila nor the Frenchman understood one syllable. And at the same moment, too, M. Peyron himself, recalled from the door of his hut by Tu-Kila-Kila’s sharp cry of pain and by his liege subject’s voluble flow of loud speech and laughter, ran up all agog to know what was the matter.
Tu-Kila-Kila, with an effort, tried to hide in his robe his wounded finger. But the Frenchman caught at the meaning of the whole scene at once, and interposed himself hastily between the parrot and its assailant. “He! my Methuselah,” he cried, in French, stroking the exultant bird with his hand, and smoothing its ruffled feathers, “did he try to choke you, then? Did he try to get over you? That was a brave bird! You did well, mon ami, to bite him!... No, no, Life of the World, and Measurer of the Sun’s Course,” he went on, in Polynesian, “you shall not go near him. Keep your distance, I beg of you. You may be a high god—though you were a scurvy wretch enough, don’t you recollect, when you were only Lavita, the son of Sami—but I know your tricks. Hands off from my birds, say I. A curse is on the head of the Soul of dead parrots. You tried to hurt him, and see how the curse has worked itself out! The blood of the great god, the Pillar of Heaven, has stained the gray dust of the island of Boupari.”
Tu-Kila-Kila stood sucking his finger, and looking the very picture of the most savage sheepishness.