I did not confide to Melannie my dreadful discovery, but she was not slow in noticing a change in the demeanour of the men with whom she formerly had daily intercourse. Those who had become eaters of human flesh avoided her, and even Ackbau seemed ashamed to intrude himself upon her.
“What is it, Peter?” she asked me, and I read the questioning fear in her eyes.
I did my best to pacify her, but I could see that the repugnance with which she regarded Ackbau now almost amounted to a mania.
“I feel inclined to run from Ackbau when I see him,” she said. “If he touched me I am sure that I would scream.”
“You will soon be beyond his power,” I answered. “Do not think of him, and you will not fear him.”
“Oh, Peter, take me away, I am frightened!” she sobbed. “Do not let Ackbau and the others come near me. They have done something. I don’t know what it is. But they are not as they were before they made the fire. Perhaps a curse is upon them for having stolen the secret from the smoke mountain.”
I tried to comfort her, but I could see that the poor child was greatly alarmed, and I determined to speak to Ackbau regarding the abominable practice in which he was engaged.
“Had I known that my fire-making would have made a cannibal of thee, Ackbau,” I said, “I would never have kindled the element upon this island. Fire is a useful and necessary article in the life of a good man, but it becomes a curse if put to evil purposes.”
“It is a curse then that will fall most heavily upon thee,” answered Ackbau. “As for me, this is my country, and I am king of its customs.” But although he pretended to resent my interference, I could see that Ackbau was ashamed of what he had done, and henceforth he avoided Melannie, and seldom entered the queen’s presence, so that I gained what I had in view by remonstrating with him.
The thought of the fire, however, and the effect which the making of it had upon these savages, set me pondering whether this element was really the primary cause of cannibalism.
No savages whom I ever met devour raw flesh, whether human or animal, so that the eating of meat by men would seem to be an acquired habit. Fruit and water appear to be the natural food and drink of man, all else being artificial and vicious.
THE NIGHT OF THE SACRIFICE
At last the night came when the snake god was to appear. The moon shone with wonderful brilliancy, sending a path of dancing light from the island across the sea to the horizon. The air was heavy as though presaging a storm. On the mountain the black pall was conspicuous against the star-spangled sky. A red glow from the crater illumined the dark smoke-cloud hanging over it. The silence was broken by the continued playing of reed pipes, making wonderful music. Melannie sat upon a throne, close to the pool in front