As I explored the mountain I could hear the rumbling of the volcanic fire within, while as I proceeded a rain of fine dust descended, making further progress disagreeable. Earth tremors also warned me that the crust here was thin, and therefore dangerous. The mountain seemed on the verge of eruption, and I wondered that no alarm for the safety of the town built at the foot of it had been shown by Melannie and her people. But I remembered that volcanoes, like all great works of Nature, measure time by the lapse of ages, and that a thousand years will often pass between the convulsions of the internal fires which find an outlet through the earth’s craters. The smoke and heat of the mountain, however, reminded me of my tinder-box, and I gathered some flints, of which there were a number lying round, before returning to my dwelling in the native town. I had kept my ability to make fire, so far, secret, but if my life was threatened I resolved to kindle a conflagration that would sweep the island.
When the queen and her followers returned from the place of execution Melannie sent for me.
“Have a care, Peter,” she said. “We are ruled here by customs which may not be changed. Already Ackbau is jealous of the favour I have shown you. To go upon the mountain, which is forbidden country, may be made an argument in favour of thy death, from which even I cannot save you.”
I pleaded an excuse for infringing the taboo, but Melannie shook her head. Then she embraced me and begged me to forgive her ill-humour.
“You will not leave me, Peter,” she pleaded. “You are strong—stronger than Ackbau, and will protect me from him.”
“But you are queen, are you not?” I answered.
“Yes, I am queen,” replied Melannie, “but I do not love my people as I should do. I wish they would make Ackbau king, so that I might be free as others are.”
She tried to embrace me, but I disengaged myself from her. I could not take her to my heart, coming, as she did, a willing spectator from the place of sacrifice.
I BECOME CHIEF COOK
I now resolved to introduce the cooking of food upon the island. From the fish and clams which the natives offered me in their raw state I turned in disgust, but I reflected that, cooked, they would make excellent eating. I was tired of fruit, and craved a more substantial diet. How long I might be compelled to remain upon this island I knew not. Perhaps I was destined to spend the rest of my life upon it. Why, then, should I be deprived of the luxury of cooking my food, when, with my flint and steel, I possessed the means of making a fire?
When I spoke of my intention to Melannie she failed to grasp my meaning. She had no notion of fire except in connexion with the smoke on the mountain, and when I told her I could make fire like that and convert it to my use, she became incredulous.