I could not but agree that her argument contained much good sense, and I admired the courage with which she was ready to face the worst that Fate might have in store for us.
“Let it be so then, Melannie,” I answered. “May heaven deal with me as I deal with thee in protecting us both from evil.”
After arriving at this decision we agreed there must be no turning back, and it only now remained to await the night upon which the unfortunate Van Luck would be offered to the snake god in order to make good our escape. Meanwhile we were allowed to wander about the island together as before. Ackbau having obtained the decree of the council for my death, and his own marriage with the queen, could afford to wait, nor did he appear anxious to deprive Melannie of the pleasure which she found in my company, until I was removed from his path. Melannie, although arrived at woman’s estate, was but a child at heart, and, as a child, he knew she would be content to let things drift until the moment for my execution was at hand, when it would be too late even for the queen to prevent it.
I had now become much attached to Melannie, feeling for her as for a dear sister. Her love for me I could not return, since all my love was given to my betrothed, but next to Anna I loved Melannie more than anyone in the world.
So far as the islanders were concerned, I was now left to my own devices. My fire-making had lost its novelty, and since it was discovered that one fire could be lighted from another my flint and steel had depreciated in value. In order to conciliate Ackbau I offered to explain to him the secret of my fire-making, but he answered coldly that he himself knew how to make fire by taking a burning brand from one fire and thrusting it among dried wood and leaves, of which there were great quantities on the island, as fire had never been alight there before.
“But if your fire should go out you would not know how to light it again,” I argued.
“I will take care that it does not go out,” answered Ackbau.
The cooking also which I had taught them was easily performed by certain members of the tribe told off for that purpose, and I noticed that much secrecy was observed in the preparation of food. This secret was revealed to me in a startling manner when I unexpectedly came upon Ackbau and some members of the council seated together enjoying a stew of what I could see was human flesh. For, indeed, what else could it be, seeing there were no animals upon the island? I mastered my horror as well as I could, for I was now in great dread of these savages, who, since they had acquired the taste for meat, appeared to have become far more ferocious and cruel than before resorting to the dreadful practice of cannibalism. My discovery, however, made me more than ever determined to rescue Melannie from the companionship of these wretches who called her their queen. It was better, I argued, for her to die in her youth and innocence upon the sea, if Providence so willed, than to become the wife of such a man as Ackbau.