“If you can make fire, Peter,” she said, “you are greater than all the gods upon the island. Whoever heard of making fire?”
In order to convince her, and to test the effect which my fire might have upon these islanders, I invited her to accompany me to a remote part of the island, seldom visited, where I had already constructed a fire-place and collected a quantity of fuel, of which there was an abundance lying round. She came with me fearlessly, for she trusted me entirely, and her intelligence, which was superior to the islanders’, made her less superstitious than the savages over whom she nominally reigned. When she saw the dried wood and leaves I had collected in my fire-place she appeared to think I had become suddenly demented, as sometimes happened to the people on the island, when they were thought to be possessed by evil spirits.
When I took up my flint and steel, however, and began to strike sparks on to the prepared tinder, she drew back alarmed, although her woman’s curiosity conquered her desire to run away. But when the sparks lighted the dried leaves, causing the wood to crackle and burn, she would have fled if I had not detained her.
“There is no magic in fire-making, Melannie,” I said, trying to allay her fears; “all white men make fires. It is as necessary to them as air and water.”
But it was hard to convince the queen of this. She looked at my fire, which now burned brightly, with wonder and alarm. “Of a truth, Peter,” she said, “thy magic is beyond me. I know now thou art indeed come from the sun. No man born of men could work such marvel.”
I had brought with me a fine fish, caught that morning from the rocks, which I had sealed and cleaned with my dagger-knife, and I now toasted it over the hot coals, after which I enjoyed the most satisfying meal I had tasted since I had been cast upon the island. I induced Melannie to eat some of the fish, which she found so much to her liking that her fear of the fire changed to admiration for what it could do.
“When my people eat of this delicious food,” she said, “they will worship you.”
I had no desire to be worshipped. All I asked was permission to eat my grilled fish in peace. But Melannie was so delighted with her meal that she made me promise to prepare a fish each day for our mutual enjoyment. For some days we continued to dine by stealth. Fish were plentiful, and we also found the bivalves I had noticed on my first landing round the fresh water pools very palatable.
At length our daily absence from the village, always at the same hour, excited suspicion, and spies were set upon us, who reported we were making another smoke mountain, which led to a surprise visit from Ackbau, who came upon us one day when our meal was preparing. I had made some rude vessels of clay, hardened by fire, in which to boil the shell-fish, and with these simmering in the pot, and a fine rock cod grilling upon the hot coals, we were awaiting our dinner with pleasurable anticipation, when Ackbau appeared.