The native city in which I now found myself consisted of a number of dwellings of beehive shape, thatched with grass, and usually about twelve feet high. The queen’s house was about three times as large as the others, and was placed in the centre of the town, with an avenue of trees, and a clear space before it for tribal dances or meetings. Ackbau also lived in a large house. On the reserve around the queen’s palace, the older men spent most of the day in gossiping, or playing upon reed pipes, which furnished their sole musical instrument. The younger men made nets, mended weapons, or shaped stones for their slings. The natives in this island did not appear to understand the use of the bow and arrow, their only weapons being clubs, slings, and spears. The spears were made of hard wood, polished and inlaid with pearl shell and beaten gold. The slings were of plaited fibre, the stones being rounded like an egg. The clubs were of various shapes, some with rounded heads, and others bent and pointed like a pick.
A QUEEN’S FAVOURITE
Three days after my coming to the Island of Gems I discovered, to my embarrassment, that Queen Melannie regarded me with more than royal favour. It had been her custom to seclude herself from her people except upon occasions, but now she preferred to walk with me daily upon the cliffs, or among the rich foliage, which made a natural garden in the valleys. None molested us, for those to whom the queen showed favour were taboo to the rest of the tribe, so that as long as I retained her goodwill I was safe. But who would be dependent upon a woman’s whim?
“You do not love me, Peter,” she said, for I had told her my name, “not as I love you. Your blood is cold. It does not run warm as mine does when I hold you to me.”
I tried to pacify her, but she would not be satisfied.
“You do not love me! You cannot love me!” she repeated. “They want me to give you to the snake god. Why should I keep you if you do not love me?”
This was the first time she had threatened me, and I began to realize that the love she professed was tempered by a degree of venom which at any moment might consign me to some cruel death.
Surely no man was placed in such a dilemma as that in which I now found myself. In all my adventures I had never felt so helpless as I did when dealing with this wilful queen. I dared not tell her of my love for Anna Holstein, for I knew that such a confession would quickly seal my doom. Yet I could not return her love, for Anna was never out of my thoughts. Meanwhile Ackbau watched us closely, content to bide his time.
The people upon this island were unlike any I had previously met with. I conjectured that in ages past some tribe of Indians had migrated to it, for that Indian blood flowed in the veins of its present inhabitants seemed beyond doubt. Their intelligence exceeded that of aborigines, and their language contained words of Hindu origin. As for the queen, I set her down for a Portuguese maiden, whose mother must have accompanied the captain of some trading vessel, probably in search of the Island of Gems, when, by a stroke of fate, the ship, with all hands, had foundered, leaving Melannie the sole survivor.