The next morning so soon as day broke he turned to his treasure trove. He could do this without fear, since one of the customs of the island, which had never been broken save the first time that he had been summoned from slumber, was an inviolable respect for the dwelling places of the islanders. None entered another's hut unbidden. The curtain dropped before the door was a sign that the dweller would be alone, and it was as strong a barrier to alien entrance as the taboo about the temple. Was the instinctive protection of privacy a heritage of the past, too?
The larger, more bulky book was, as he had suspected. an ancient Bible printed in old Dutch which he could make shift to read largely because what he was reading was more or less familiar to him. It was leather-bound, brass-clasped, and, though it was mildewed and decayed, the stout paper and the honest ink and the clear type had resisted the ravages of time in a way that would not be possible even in the best bound and printed of modern books.
He laid the Bible reverently aside after quick examination and turned to the other volume. This also was leather-bound, its pages written over in the same old-fashioned Dutch. It was much harder to read, but a glance told him what it was. It was a ship's log book. There were weather records, observations, nautical comments, and remarks; he glanced at these and then fell to the story. In it he knew would be found the solution of the mystery of the presence of Truda and all the rest on the island.
It was with beating heart that he pored over the first page. In after years Derrick Beekman made a fair translation of that wonderful volume which he had printed upon the finest parchment paper at the most exclusive printery in the land in a limited edition for his friends and his descendants, and he presented some of the copies to the great libraries of the world, where the curious can inspect them and read the story in full. It is sufficient now to say that this was the log of the ship Good Intent, which Beekman decided to be the English equivalent of the quaint Dutch name. The Good Intent had belonged to the Dutch East India Company, and early in the seventeenth century had set sail from Holland with a good crew commanded by Captain Adrian Harpertzoon Van Rooy. With him, according to the enumeration, came his brother, Jacobus Van Rooy, and a number of other sailors, with a few soldiers and a supercargo, Hendrick Handen. The soldiers were to garrison a factory in the East Indies, and they were accompanied by their wives; and it further appeared that Captain Van Rooy had brought with him his wife, Gertrude.
The long voyage to the Indian Ocean had been made without untoward events until a storm had dismasted the ship and she had sprung a leak, after tremendous and uncontrolled rolling. They had patched up the leak, rigged a jury mast, and had driven before the wind-their only way of sailing. They had picked up, near one of the islands, a native canoe containing nearly a score of Polynesian men and women. The canoe was in bad shape and about to founder. Captain Van Rooy had charitably received the natives aboard his own almost wrecked ship. It was impossible for him to land them in that storm, and they had wit enough to see that their only chance lay in going with him or sinking.
After sailing many days, the Good Intent was run into the vast cuplike harbor. Evidently there had been an opening through the barrier reef at that time. They had beached her and made their way to the top of the island, which they found uninhabited, but fertile and teeming with plant life. They had stripped the ship of her cargo and equipment, and it had been Captain Van Rooy's intention to build a boat out of her when his heterogeneous company had recovered from the hardships of the terrible voyage, during the latter part of which they had suffered greatly from the dreadful scourge of scurvy; but some catastrophe had swept the hulk out of the harbor and had blocked up the opening in the reef. Beekman could not gather what it was, an earthquake or a tidal wave. Whatever it was, Captain Van Rooy had been marooned with a dozen surviving Dutch soldiers and sailors and his brother and mate Jacobus; Handen, the supercargo; with eight women, the wives of as many soldiers, and the captain's own wife, together with half a dozen Polynesian men and twice as many women.1
The book described in detail the building of the settlement. The stone was easily quarried. They were solid and substantial people, these Dutchmen. They had built their houses in that way. They had built a church, too; had endeavored to act as civilized, God-fearing Christians should. The counting of time had soon been lost. Entries in the log book, at first very full, grew more and more infrequent. There was, indeed, little to note. Nothing happened. Life was as monotonously pleasant then as now. They had saved seeds and plants, and some European animals such as dogs and pigs-the animals multiplied; the seeds, being planted, grew and offered a welcome supplement to the fruits of the tropic island.
By and by the entries were confined to records of marriages, births, deaths. The Polynesian men appeared to have died first. Captain Van Rooy, while he lived, had acted as the schoolmaster and the spiritual leader of the inhabitants. He had married them in due and proper form. Their marriages were recorded in the log book. The births of their children were entered. He had allotted to these records a section of the book which was even yet not full. It was possible to trace the lines of descent of different families for as many as six generations.
When he had died, others, obviously less skillful with the pen, less well informed, but with good intent, took up the task of keeping the records. Beekman afterwards made calculations based upon the probable duration of lives, and found that they had managed to keep the record, although more and more imperfectly, until the birth of old Kobo, the present patriarch of the island, who was Truda's grandfather-descendant of the first Jacobus, certainly. Of course all of these things did not come to Beekman at once, but gradually. As the summary of his investigations is alone necessary for this history, they are set down.
He discovered that old Captain Van Rooy had alone among the Dutchmen apparently been proud of his line, and had kept his children and grandchildren from any intermarriage with those who had Polynesian blood in them. Evidently the custom, or his habit, had become a fetish for his descendants; for in so far as it was possible, and Beekman noted this with delight, in one family at least the pure Dutch blood had been maintained. It was not possible to avoid all admixture, but there was less of it in Jacobus and Truda than in any other dwellers upon the island, and next to her and old Jacobus in the purity of blood was Hano of the supercargo's line, although his strain did not compare with that of the woman.
The records of the first fifty years on the island were fairly complete, but after that there was only the register of marriages, births, and deaths among these people whom the world forgot, and by whom it was soon apparent the world itself was forgotten.
The joy which filled Beekman's heart as he disentangled the story from the confusions of the blurred, faded, time-worn records of the past which he had discovered, indicated to the man the depth of his feeling for Truda. He had to the full the white man's pride in and sense of superiority to any other race, and the unpleasant thought that the woman who was so impregnably entrenching herself in his heart had any large admixture of Polynesian blood had been one against which he had struggled, with not a great deal of success. To be sure, that objection did not bulk very large upon an unknown island in the South Seas; it would be no bar whatever to any irregular connection, which would have been natural enough with most men under the strange circumstances in which he found himself. But Beekman was of a different breed. He honestly loved the girl with a passion which was sufficiently great to consider her future before his own gratification. Inevitably, while pondering any real and lasting future relationship with her, he realized that her purity of blood-white blood, that is-would be a much more important consideration when they got back to civilization, if they ever did. And in the case of children, if any ever came, a preponderance of Polynesian blood might create an almost unbearable situation.
Beekman had not a particle of the spirit of the beachcomber. The good blood of decent, God-fearing America at its best pulsed in his veins. Nothing would have induced him to settle down in some lotus-eating, non-moral life of dolce far niente on some golden South Sea strand with his wild, primitive goddess for a moment longer than he could help. He wanted her for a wife, and a wife of whom he could be proud even before the men and women of his kind.
The sudden realization that the woman he loved was a meet and fitting mate for him, not only in beauty and intellect, but in blood as well, was wonderfully stimulating. Naturally, he had often thought of escape from the island, but he had never considered it before as he would consider it hereafter. He did not see any way as yet, but he was persuaded that a way would be opened eventually. He had confidence enough in his own ability to devise it, he thought, as soon as it was necessary. Meanwhile he had another task, and that was to complete, or to continue-for the completion would be long deferred-the finely progressing education of Truda-Gertrude Van Rooy, as she undoubtedly was.
And he could hardly wait for the moment when he could tell her of his discovery. It would not mean much to her then, of course. She was not troubled with scruples as to relationships or any future complications. In that matter she was neither moral nor immoral. That question did not enter her mind at all. It was simply non-existent. But two facts counted. He loved her and she loved him. Nothing else mattered. In his own good time he would take her, and she would be glad to be possessed. Of course, that ceremony, so meaningless to them all, but to which as a sacred tradition from their mysterious past they all adhered, would take place, and then they would go and live together after the simple primitive way of the island, where the human beings mated almost like the animals. Artlessly she longed for the day that was to be, but she was content to await his pleasure.
He knew all this. He realized, being neither blind nor a fool, that he need only will to have, take to enjoy. And it made his restraint the harder. If he had resigned himself to life indefinitely on the island, it might, it would have been different. He might not have been able to find the strength to resist temptation so freely, so innocently, yet so passionately presented to him. But he was always seeing her in a different environment. He was always dreaming of another life in another land. He wanted her for a wife and nothing else. Some day she would thank him for this. Now she only wondered, sometimes with a touch of disappointment.
The day after their visit to the church, or temple, he had imparted the story to her, explaining carefully, so she could grasp at least the salient points of the narrative, how she and those who survived came to that island. It was difficult to make her understand. She had few abstract notions as yet. The concrete alone appealed to the primitive. But she had developed amazingly, and by repetition and explanation over and over again she began to appreciate the truth. When he told her that she differed from the rest of the inhabitants of the island, she could understand that better, for she too possessed, albeit it had been latent, a full measure of the pride of the white race. She had gloried that her skin was fairer, her hair brighter, her eyes bluer even than those of Hano and Kobo, much more than those of any of the others. Now she began to catch a glimpse of the reason why, not only for her personal difference, but for her instinctive joy in it as well.
"Then I am like you," she said at last, "of your people."
"Yes; of my race, of my blood," answered the man, and the joy and satisfaction she felt in his voice thrilled her, and satisfied her, too; for what pleased him pleased her even more.
"What is to be done now?" asked the woman as they retraced their steps from some island haunt where they loved to linger in the cool of the evening of that day of revelations.
She spoke English. Her mind, like her body, was virgin. She was excessively quick to respond to the stimulus of his teaching, and she possessed a rare faculty for language, he discovered. Conversation was easy and unrestrained; she could use Dutch words if necessary to supplement her English, and even on occasion revert to the island dialect, and he could easily understand both.
"I am going to teach you to understand the message of the books."
"The words of your God and mine?"
"And where, and when, and how?"
"Listen; I have thought of a plan. I don't know what they would do to us or to me if they caught me with the books."
The girl shook her head with grave foreboding.
"They might kill you," she said, "but I don't know. The things of the God-what do you call them? – books, have never been taken from the taboo house."
"Church," he corrected.
"The church," she repeated, endeavoring with considerable success to form the unaccustomed sound. "I can't tell what they would do, but old Kobo would be terribly angry and afraid. They are all afraid of that house, as I was until you showed me a better way. And Hano hates you, anyway."
"Of course. Personally, I don't fear the lot of them," said the man, smiling and quite confident in his splendid vigor, "but I don't want to have any trouble. I don't want to be the means of introducing bloodshed and hatred into this little paradise."
He spoke unwittingly, not realizing for the moment that wherever human passions enter, even the highest and holiest, they usually make a way through which others that come not in the same category follow. His arrival upon the island, the unconscious supremacy he assumed as related to the rest, the love that had sprung up between him and this fair child of Europe, and of the nurture of the tropic seas, had brought jealousy and hate and envy in their train. There had been no crime committed on that island perhaps since it had been discovered, certainly not for generations, but now-well, he would see. He went on in natural unconsciousness of all that while the obsessed woman hung upon his words-
"That place overlooking the deep bay, where first I saw you, where you go to meet the sunrising-I know now why you do it," he broke off.
"That is where they used to watch and hope for the ships."
"Sometimes I have seen a black cloud far away."
"The smoke of a steamer."
She nodded, not comprehending fully, but acquiescing naturally in anything he put forth.
"But it never came near," she added as he went on.
"From there we can see not only the sea but the whole island. No trees grow near. No one can approach without being seen for a long distance. We will take the books and hide them there in the rocks and cover them up carefully. There I will teach you to read the speaking leaves."
"But when old Kobo discovers they are gone?"
"We will put them back in good time. It will be as easy to put them back as it was to take them. No one goes into the church except at that monthly visit. Are you sure?"
"Well, the rest is simple."
Using one of the cocoa-fiber baskets with which the islanders were accustomed to carry their produce from field to house, the two books were carried to the hiding place without suspicion the next morning. Beekman found a suitable recess, rounded it out with loose stones, and made a dry hiding place for the volumes when they were not in use. The natives generally avoided that spot, but once or twice Hano or Kobo or one of the elders had visited it when the two were there. And, as they had done before, they came again in the days that followed, but the lovers were always found apparently idly scanning the sea and talking about indifferent things.
Of course, some suspicion was at first aroused by their unusually long visits to that semi-sacred spot, but it was soon dissipated in the indifferent and inert minds of every one of them except Hano. As he was whiter, so he was abler than the rest. He made up his mind that he would overhear what those two, one of whom he hated as much as he loved the other, had to say to each other in those long hours. He came in the night, searching for a place of concealment where he could lie hidden and whence he could overhear, but at first he found none. To hide on the slope that went upward to form the walls of the little amphitheater which opened upon the bay or gulf and sea at the top of the cliff was an impossibility. In the first place, he never could get there without traversing the only practicable path and being observed the whole way. In the second place, if he had found a spot where he could lie hidden, he would be so far from the lip of the wall that he could neither hear nor see. There were no caves or crannies big enough to conceal him.
In despair, he stepped to the extreme edge and glanced down, and instantly the solution of his problem presented itself. About six feet below the level of the little amphitheater was a shelf of rock. Access to it would be difficult, dangerous, but not impossible. He tried, and, although he was not used to great heights, he made it. Such was the stimulus of his hate. He examined the shelf of rock, discovered that it ran inward a little, so that if necessary he could conceal himself even from direct observation from above.
The next day he would try it. He would get up before daybreak, and when Truda visited the place for her unfailing survey of the sea at dawn, he would be concealed. After that visit the two invariably went back to the village for breakfast. Then they returned and the lessons began. She had proved an amazingly apt scholar. She could spell out many of the words of the Dutch Bible and express most of the thought in simple English. The written word of the log book was still a mystery to her. He had read it to her, but had not tried to teach her from it then; but she had made great headway with the printed word. After she had learned enough of that, Beekman intended to devise some means to teach her to write, but for the present printing was enough. He began with the Gospel according to St. Luke, which he had preferred to the others for its clear, simple, and beautiful style. Truda not only learned the letters and the simpler words, but she also began to apprehend the great truths of religion which Beekman had held perfunctorily and sometimes lightly, but which on that heaven-kissed hill, on that forgotten island, in the midst of that great sea, he too began to appreciate and realize as he had never done before.
Sweet indeed were those hours when he sat with that old Dutch Bible open on his knee, while she sat upon a lower rock by his side, leaning innocently upon him, her head bent close to the pages of Holy Writ, following eagerly his pointing finger with her glance and imbibing the teaching that he gave her. Imbibing other things, too, for sometimes he broke off and closed the book and laid his hand upon the girl's head or shoulder, or turned her face up to his while she nestled closer to him. They spoke together, without reserve, of the deeper things of love and life. There were no conventions save such as the instinctive sweetness and purity of the woman and the stern repression of the man imposed.
Truda had become so proficient in her English now that they no longer used Polynesian at all; they spoke English or Dutch habitually. Consequently, the listening Hano, his ears attuned by jealousy and hatred and love and tumult of passion to catch the slightest meaning, could make out but little of what was said, especially as they sometimes whispered with the soft yet passionate cadences of lovers alone.
There was no wind that day. The long, slow silting of the waves through the crevices in the barrier far below only came up to the top of the island in faint murmurs. The listener could hear voices but not understand. Indeed, the clearest sound that came to him was the rustling caused by the turning of the stiff, thick, parchment-like leaves of the book. He could not understand what it was. He was greatly puzzled by it.
So the hours wore away. As it approached noontime the cooling shadow cast upon the lovers by the rock wall of the little cup in which they lingered, was withdrawn from them by the upward movement of the sun. The lesson for the morning was over. Hano heard them rise, preparatory to going back to the camp for the noon meal and the afternoon siesta. He heard them put something away in the rocks and pile other rocks around it. That at least was clear to him, his wits sharpened by his desire. He waited until they had gone, calculated the time it would take them to disappear in the clump of trees, and then climbed back to the little amphitheater.
His first business was to search for what had been concealed. Without a clew it never would have occurred to him to do so, nor had he wit or experience enough, as a higher intelligence would have shown, to go directly to the spot where the loose stones were piled artificially; but he had the patience to leave no stone unturned, and his persistent search under that burning sun was at last rewarded. After moving some of the larger stones, the books were at last revealed to him. He was struck dumb with terror. He knew very well what they were. He recognized them instantly. He had seen them at a distance upon the altar of the taboo house.
In his half-savage way he wondered that the blasphemers who had broken the taboo had not been struck dead by the angry, mysterious god whom they worshiped. He could only attribute Truda's immunity to some powerful spell, or charm, cast over her by this mysterious visitor whom he regarded as a devil. He did not know what to do in the emergency. He realized that it was a matter for a wiser head than his, if such could be found on the island. Under other circumstances, unconsciously acknowledging Truda's superiority, he would have gone straight to her, but that was not to be thought of now. His only recourse was Kobo.
Putting back the stones which covered the sacred volumes, he turned and ran with all speed to the settlement. The noon meal was over. The islanders were resting in their houses. All was quiet, still. Without a moment's hesitation, breaking what was almost a taboo itself, Hano dashed into Kobo's house, knelt down by him, shaking the old man violently.
"Awake," he whispered. "The taboo has been broken."