Ridgeway wandered nervously through the village, watching the sun as it crept nearer and nearer to the middle of its daily reign—would the minutes never end? Why had the sun stopped in its course across the sky? Why was time so tantalizing?
At last! The sudden clangor of weird instruments filled his ears. He held his hand to his throbbing heart as he turned his gaze toward the door through which she was to come.
Inside the great temple the people of Nedra were singing and chanting with anticipant joy; outside the world was smiling benignly. All Nedra gathered about the circle of earth in which Tennys Huntingford was to cast herself at the feet of her husband and lord for all time.
Hugh had not seen her since the night before, and his eyes were starving for the vision. She came forth, her white hand in the great broad palm of King Pootoo, and she smiled gloriously upon the man who stood below and waited for her to come to him. Together they were to approach the circle. The priests were there to receive them—Hugh first and then his bride; the people were shouting, the instruments were jangling with a fiercer fervor, the sun was passing across the line with his fairest smile and wedding bells were ringing in two red, full hearts.
But even as she came up to him and touched his arm, outside the temple doors, the hand of Fate was lifted and a rigid finger stayed them on the verge.
A mighty intonation, sharp and deafening, came to their ears like a clap of thunder from a clear sky!
Paralysis, stupefaction, fell upon the multitude. There was a silence as of death. Every sound ceased, every heart stood still and every sense was numb. It seemed an hour before Hugh Ridgeway’s stiff lips muttered:
“A gun! A ship’s gun!”
THE CRUISER “WINNETKA"
A moment later pandemonium broke loose. The ceremony was forgotten in the panic that seized the startled savages. There was a rush, a stampede of terror and the great temple was emptied as if by magic. Hugh and his fair companion stood alone in the little plain, staring at the distant gateposts, over which a faint cloud of smoke was lifting, coming up from the sea beyond. The terrified savages had fled to their homes in wildest alarm.
Minutes passed before Hugh could speak again. Power of comprehension seemed to have left them. They were looking dumbly into each other’s eyes.
“It was a gun—a big gun. Our flag.”
Without knowing what they did the two started across the plain, their eyes glued to the great rocks that screened the mystery.
“Can it be the Oolooz men?” she asked.
“The whole Oolooz army, dead or alive, couldn’t have made a noise like that. It might have been a volcano breaking through the rocks.”
“Then we must not venture down there,” she cried, holding back. He threw his big right arm around her waist and broke into a brisk run, taking her along resistlessly.