Not being tropic-born, Beekman did not take naturally to the siesta. Nor had he been long enough in the tropics to have acquired the habit. It was his pleasant custom to lie awake during the rest period, day-dreaming of the princess of this enchanted island. Sometimes he never even dozed, the occupation was so entrancing. It happened on that afternoon, however, that he had fallen asleep.
He was not left to his own devices. He was awakened to find himself covered with something thick and heavy, and his first movement was greeted with savage cries which came to him through a grass mat which had apparently been thrown over his face. At his first movement he was conscious that men had thrown themselves upon him from every side. Half choked and weighed down by a number of heavy bodies, he yet struck out blindly with arms and legs. He was a powerful man, but he was taken at a disadvantage, and, although he upheaved himself mightily and strained like a Titan, he did not succeed in getting free.
On the contrary, a rope made of cocoanut fiber was passed around his legs. The slip-noose was tightly drawn and, almost before it could be told, his feet were bound tightly together. He perceived that it was useless to struggle longer. As he ceased his wild efforts the cloth was dragged from his face and he instantly sat up. Before he had time to do more than recognize the angry faces of the men on the island, another rope was slipped over his shoulders. As before, the noose was drawn tight, and before he could prevent it his arms were bound and the rope wrapped around his body again and again.
He was as helpless as a trussed fowl. His first thought as he stared at the passion-convulsed faces of the men was of shame that he had allowed himself to be so easily caught; his second emotion was surprise. What had transformed these peaceful, listless, indifferent, gentle, decadent islanders into truculent savages? For the moment he did not connect the violation of their sanctuary with his present plight. The whole male population of the island had fallen on him; even the larger boys had joined their elders. If he had been on his feet and ready and possessed of a weapon, even his sheath knife or his boat hook, perhaps he could have beaten them off, for there were fewer than a score of them, and the only one who had any real vigor in him was Hano. Obviously, he had taken the lead in the capture. Hano's determination and old Kobo's cunning had brought about Beekman's undoing.
The American could not yet regard the situation as particularly serious. Passion and anger and bloodshed were so far removed from any possible association with those islanders that Beekman could only consider his present plight as a temporary inconvenience. To be sure, Hano hated him, but the others not only liked but almost revered him. He would not have been human if he had not been glad to see Hano limping from a particularly vicious kick he had received. Indeed, he laughed as he saw him rubbing his leg, and that only infuriated the young man the more, which was not wise on the part of the prisoner. He had yet to learn that even perverted religion, especially when it serves as a cloak for other passions, as in the case of Hano, could change the natures of men and bring about the most malefic consequences to those who stood in its way. It is always the abuse of the useful that is most dangerous.
About the only thing really strong in the lives of these islanders was their curious mixture of Polynesian idolatry with degenerate recollections of Christianity. Like a half-truth, their religion in theory seemed to combine the worst elements of the savage inheritance with debased Christianity. They did not indulge in the savage rites of the South Seas, those hideous practices had been abandoned under the influence of civilization, but in theory at least the worst features of that religion persisted.
The only laws upon the island were, first, the law of ceremonial religious observances, which was as easy as it was uncomprehended, and which no one had any interest in violating; and, second, the law which made a taboo of the temple, which was infinitely more important. The more unfamiliar they were with the temple, the more dread with which they regarded it. The mysterious taboo was the most powerful thing in their lives. The temple was, as it should be, the house of their god, but there was a mixture of the stern severity of the Christian-for Christianity was held very strenuously in the days in which that Dutch ship blew to the island-and the tremendous diabolism of the Polynesian Tangaroa. The rule of that compounded god was fear-begotten, a rule of consuming fire. They had by no means learned the perfect love which would cast it out.
When Hano whispered into the ear of Kobo that the taboo had been broken, the shrine had been violated, the sacred-he did not call them books-objects, the property of the god, had been taken from the temple and made a plaything of by the stranger and Truda, the old man's soul fainted within him. So soon as he had realized the purport of Hano's excited words, he had almost collapsed. It had needed the young man's fiery urgency to awaken him to the obligation of doing something.
Just what should be done did not come to old Kobo. It would have to be debated by all the worshipers of the god-the men, that is. But one need was obvious. The blasphemer, the violator of the sanctuary, the breaker of the taboo, must be secured before he could work further mischief. Doubtless into these dark and degenerate minds had lodged the idea-among the very oldest of all religious ideas-of propitiation. They could perhaps placate the angry god and avert from themselves the consequences of his anger by punishing the man who had dared to raise his hand against divinity.
It is on record that One Who His enemies said sought to make Himself equal with God was punished by man, and perhaps for the same reason.
That idea, so agreeable to the natural man, had been strengthened by the struggle which had resulted in the binding of the criminal. Conflict always calls for punishment of the vanquished. Without shedding of blood is no remission. Battles are measured by butchers' bills, and the fact that men fight makes the butcher a welcome assistant.
The women and children of the settlement, not having been summoned to the conference of men which Hano had brought to Kobe's hut, were not fully aware of the reason for the commotion. They clustered about the door of Beekman's hut, peering within, but not daring to enter. Indeed, Hano, at Kobe's direction, drove them back with the curt statement that the men would explain to them later what was the cause of their action and what was toward.
Beekman's glances had eagerly searched the little huddle of women at the door, but he had not found Truda among them, for a very good reason. At Hano's suggestion, Kobo had bade two of the sturdier women keep Truda a close prisoner in her own hut until he should decide what was to be done with her for her participation in the dread crime.
Speaking in Dutch-Polynesian, of which he had easily learned enough for ordinary purposes, Beekman now demanded to know the meaning of the extraordinary assault upon him. The men had been consulting in low tones in the far corner of the hut. Old Kobo detached himself from the group and came forward, Hano following and standing next to him.
"You have broken the taboo. You have taken the treasures of our god. He will be angry with us. We have decided to kill you in order that he may not hurt us."
The conclusion was strictly in accord with the ancient law of self-preservation.
"If he is angry with me," said Beekman at once, perceiving the seriousness of the situation, "he will hurt me, not you. Therefore you have no reason to be afraid. Let the god himself kill me."
It was shrewdly suggested, but there was not wit enough, except perhaps in Hano, to follow the reasoning. Kobo shook his head.
"You have broken the taboo. Who breaks the taboo must die. It is the only way."
There was a simple finality about the statement of the old semi-savage which at last struck terror to Beekman's heart. His blood ran cold. He knew what atrocities were sometimes perpetrated under the name of religion in the South Seas. The situation suddenly seemed to him to be absolutely hopeless. Arguments and appeals flashed through his brain, came to his lips, yet something withheld utterance. In the first place, he was a white man and he would not beg his life of these mongrels. In the second place, the only argument he could think of had been used without effect. Then his mind flashed to Truda. Was she involved? How did these islanders learn of the theft of the books? for of course he knew instantly that was what Kobo meant. And did they know of her part in the adventure? Her absence was convincing proof that she too was suspected and in mortal peril. He must find out for sure, if possible, before anything else.
"You say that I have taken things belonging to the god?" he began.
"Yes, and broken the taboo."
"Things from the taboo house, that lay on the stone at the other end. I have seen them there every time I have gone in."
"And I also," said Hano.
"And we," chimed in the men.
"Where are they now?"
"Hidden in the rocks," answered Hano, "where Truda watches the rising sun."
"How do you know that?"
"I saw them there. I heard you and Truda this morning."
"Impossible!" cried Beekman. "Where were you? I looked everywhere."
"I was hidden below on the face of the rocks. There is a place there."
"I see," said Beekman. "And Truda, what of her?"
"Did she go into the temple?"
"No," said Beekman, quickly and unhesitatingly, lying like a gentleman to save her if he could. "I went alone. She was afraid. She tried to stop me. She begged me not to."
"She should have told me," said Kobo, "but because she did not go, she shall not die."
"Give her to me," cried Hano. "This stranger has cast a spell upon her."
"I shall know how to free her," said Kobo.
"Meanwhile, may I ask what death is designed for me?" asked Beekman.
"You have said it," answered Kobo gravely; "the god will determine that."
He nodded his head to the men. Six of them stepped over and picked Beekman up. They bore him out into the open enclosure. At Kobo's direction Hano summoned the women. Truda did not come, and neither were her guardians present. As those women who had been detailed to watch her were among the most prominent in the settlement, Beekman, lying on the ground with his head and shoulders against a tree, noted their absence. As the islanders assembled Kobo waved his hand for silence.
"This man," he said, not without a certain dignity, "was cast up by the sea upon our shores. We received him kindly. We gave him a house to live in. We supplied him with things to eat. He was free to come and go. In return for our welcome he has broken the taboo." A wail of horror came from one old woman. It was caught up by the others, and even the men and children joined in. It was quite evident that the crime was a real one in the eyes of the people and there would be no hesitation in the most extreme methods. "The god will be angry with us," continued Kobo when he could be heard again. "Perhaps we can please him by giving him this breaker of the taboo."
"What would you do, O Kobo?" asked one of the older women.
"Lay him as he is, bound hand and foot, in the taboo house for the god to dispose of. It wants ten days before we worship in the temple. We will leave him there during that time, bound, alone. If he is alive then we will know the god has pardoned him."
"But if he should get away?" asked one of the men.
"We will be the arms and eyes of the god. We will watch every moment the taboo house."
"And food?" asked one.
"And drink?" asked another.
"If the god wishes him to live, he will provide," said the old man simply. He signed to the bearers. "The taboo is broken, so all may come in this time."
They picked up the absolutely helpless Beekman and bore him to the temple. Kobo unbarred the door. He stood hesitating a moment on the threshold. The taboo was broken indeed, or had been, yet it was a great thing he was about to do. He could only trust to the god that he would understand. With a muttered jargon of prayer, at which the people sank shuddering to their knees, and which to Beekman was grotesquely and horribly Christian, he finally entered the building, beckoning the bearers, who followed, stepping hesitantly and fearsomely with their heavy burden. After them crowded all the rest.
"We will lay him there," said Kobo, pointing to the opening in the railing or balustrade.
He stepped forward to give direction, and as his eyes became accustomed to the dim light he discovered on the altar or table the two books that Hano had declared he had seen in the rocks. He stopped, petrified. Hano had lied. There had been no profanation of the temple. He had broken the taboo himself, and without cause. His veins turned to water within him. He staggered and would have fallen but for the strong arm of the younger man.
"There," he whispered, pointing, "the things of the gods are there. You have lied."
It was Hano's turn to be stricken with terror. Had his eyes deceived him? Could those objects have been duplicated? What mystery, what magic was here? He was younger, stronger, and the sooner realized the necessity for action.
"Out!" he cried, waving his hand.
"Shall we leave him?" asked the first bearer.
"No; bring him, and out, everybody, lest the god strike and spare not."
He suited action to word. Half carrying old Kobo, he drove the rest out of the temple. Kobo dropped on the threshold. Hano had nerve and courage to swing the door, and then he backed up against it, ashy with terror. Old Kobo rose to his feet.
"People of the island," he cried shrilly, "we have broken the taboo. Hano has spoken falsely. The things of the god are there. O Tangaroa, pardon." He bowed his head in his hands. "Woe, woe, woe!" he cried.
For a moment the islanders stood silent, and then they joined his lamentations.
"Perhaps you will release me now," said Beekman at last.
Old Kobo's hand went out to the lashing.
"Forgive me. This liar will take your place."
"Wait," said Hano, his courage coming back. "I saw the things of the god in the rocks. I heard them moving in the hands of this man and Truda. She can testify."
"Where is she?" asked Beekman.
"Let someone go for Truda. Let her be brought here," said Kobo.
One of the younger women started in the direction of Truda's hut, when, from a clump of trees to the right of the temple, around which the path ran, appeared the two women who had been appointed to watch Truda. The girl herself was between them. Each one clasped an arm. She came along the path without reluctance, her head held high. She shot a glance at her lover which reassured him. He instantly realized the explanation of the happy chance which had saved him, temporarily at least.
Truda had somehow escaped, had got the books, entered the church through the rear doorway as before, and had replaced the books on the altar. What it had cost her he could well understand. Old Kobo stared at the three in amazement.
"How did you come here?" he cried to the two women. "I told you to keep Truda in her house."
"While we watched the door, O Kobo, she escaped through the window. When we found out we searched for her."
"We saw her-" the woman hesitated.
"Where was she?"
"At the back of the taboo house," Answered the younger woman in awe-struck voice, "with the things of the god in her arms."
"You see," cried Hano, triumphantly, "I told you the truth. She went to the rock to fetch them. She put them back."
"How did she get in?" asked one old man.
"There is an entrance at the other end, vine-covered and forgotten," answered Kobo, his eyes sparkling. It had been shown him as a boy, and had never been used.
"We were afraid to follow. When she came out we seized her and brought her here."
"What have you to say, Truda?"
"It is true," answered the girl.
"What is the use of questioning Truda?" interposed Beekman, stopping the confession which trembled on her lips. "I took the books; I hid them in the rocks. Through them your God, which is my God, speaks to me. I tried to teach Truda His speech. I will teach you all if you will free me."
"Let us put him back in the taboo house," cried one of the oldest.
"Yes, that will be best," cried a second.
"Leave him with the god," urged a third.
"I, too," cried Truda; "I also-"
"Be silent!" appealed Beekman in the language they two alone understood. "If you love me, say nothing. Alive, you can help me. Dead, and we die together."
"What do you say?" asked Kobo of the men.
"I have a suggestion to make," said Hano.
"What is that?"
"You thought that my tongue was doubled, that I did not speak the truth-"
"We were wrong," said Kobo.
"Let me speak now," said Hano.
"Let us hear him," cried one after another.
"Out of the deep this man came to us. Doubtless his God brought him to our shores. Let us commit him to the deep again. Doubtless his God can take him away."
"What do you mean?"
"Let us cast him down from the cliff into the gulf below."
"That is well," said Kobo.
"It is," shouted one after another.
They loosened the lashings around Beekman's feet, lifted him up, and forced him, surrounded by the men, along the path that led to the little amphitheatre. Everybody followed. This was business of the highest importance, and until it was settled, nothing mattered. When they got to the little amphitheatre, in which all crowded who could possibly enter, the lashings around Beekman's feet were drawn tight again.
"What do you mean to do?" he asked.
"Thrust you over the cliff."
It was a fall of perhaps over five hundred feet sheer down. If he were thrown far enough he might fall into the water, but even that would kill him. In all probability he would drop to the rocks. There was that shelf of which Hano had spoken where he had concealed himself. By bending forward from his place on the brink, Beekman could see it. So could Hano.
"Not here," said the latter, "but there."
They dragged Beekman over to a spot where nothing broke the descent.
"Bring staves for all," said Kobo with obvious meaning.
All the men must join in the thrust, it seemed. It would be the only way to avert the anger of Tangaroa-God from them all. Meanwhile they laid Beekman carefully back against the rocks while some of the men ran back for long pieces of stout bamboo or cane. Their intent was evident. When the time came they would each one seize a staff and together they would thrust him over. So all would participate, and from all the vengeance of the gods would be turned away.
"Truda," began Beekman in that language which they alone understood, "there is no help for it. I must die. It is not the end I expected. I hoped to get away from the island, to take you with me, to teach you of the things that lay beyond, to make you my wife. I love you, facing death as I am I say it with all my heart. You can do nothing for me. But no matter what happens to me or what happens to you, there is another life. I have tried to tell you about it and I shall wait for you there."
"And I love you, Beek-man," answered Truda in return just as simply as he had spoken. "You know that. I would gladly give my life for yours, and I shall follow very soon. You will wait for me?"
"Stop them," said Hano at last.
"Let him talk with his God, if he will, in these last moments," answered Kobo.
"But not with Truda," persisted Hano.
"When Truda is yours you can make her forget what she had learned."
"But I will never belong to Hano," cried Truda.
With a quick movement she broke loose from the women who held her on the outskirts of the crowd. She leaped up the wall of the amphitheatre that wound around a little distance away from the rest, and there she stood poised.
"Truda," cried Beekman, who was placed where he could see her every movement, "what would you do?"
"Stop," cried the girl in the language of the island, as Hano started for her, followed by the others coming up with the staves. "Let no one come near me. Hano and Kobo, stand forth."
Such was her imperious emphasis that her command was at once obeyed. The two addressed separated themselves from the crowd, which halted, but Hano again started for the girl.
"If you come nearer, I shall leap over," she said quickly. "Stand where you are, Hano."
He stopped in the face of this threat and stood as if rooted to the spot.
"Beek-man has broken the taboo," said the girl in the deep silence. "Perhaps you do right to punish him-"
"O Truda," groaned Beekman under his breath, but if the girl heard, she made no sign.
"He came from the deep. You may return him there, but he came alive, and you must return him alive."
"What do you mean?"
"You must send him down through the place where the water falls. You must unbind him. You must give him what he brought, the sharp thing that cuts and the bright thing that strikes. You must give him food."
"But he will come back," said one.
"You can watch the place."
"We can wall it up with stones," said Kobo.
"Will you give this man life?" cried Hano.
"If you do not," continued Truda, "if you do not swear by the god to do as I say-"
"I will throw myself over the cliff before your eyes."
"O Truda!" exclaimed Beekman again, but in a different way, for now he understood.
Now the most determined character of them all was Hano. There was an assurance in the girl's words that carried conviction to his mind, at least. If she threw herself over the cliff, she would be hopelessly lost to him, and the fact that he could wreak vengeance on Beekman would not bring her back.
"Let it be as she says, O Kobo."
The old man was naturally inclined to mercy. The fierce passion of the morning had spent itself. The taboo had been broken, but nothing had happened. The things of the god were back in their places. Truda's suggestion might have persuaded him without the threat. But the threat had persuaded Hano.
"It shall be as you say," answered Kobo.
"Swear it," cried Truda.
"By the broken taboo, by the god whose things you have put back, by the great Tangaroa himself, I swear it," cried Kobo, turning to the others.
"We all swear."
Truda instantly stepped back from the verge.
"And you will marry me, Truda; you will be my woman?"
"We shall see as to that when you have disposed of Beekman," said the girl. "You will wait for me," she said to Beekman; "not in another life, but there." She glanced downward.
Beekman nodded. He understood.
"What do you say?" asked Hano jealously.
"I only gave him a message for his God," answered Truda.