The Coral Island A Tale of the Pacific Ocean
Part 6 out of 6
was seated in the hinder part of the canoe. She was not fettered
in any way. Our captors now drove us before them towards the hut
of Tararo, at which we speedily arrived, and found the chief seated
with an expression on his face that boded us no good. Our friend
the teacher stood beside him, with a look of anxiety on his mild
"How comes it," said Tararo, turning to the teacher, "that these
youths have abused our hospitality?"
"Tell him," replied Jack, "that we have not abused his hospitality,
for his hospitality has not been extended to us. I came to the
island to deliver Avatea, and my only regret is that I have failed
to do so. If I get another chance, I will try to save her yet."
The teacher shook his head. "Nay, my young friend, I had better
not tell him that. It will only incense him."
"Fear not," replied Jack. "If you don't tell him that, you'll tell
him nothing, for I won't say anything softer."
On hearing Jack's speech, Tararo frowned and his eye flashed with
"Go," he said, "presumptuous boy. My debt to you is cancelled.
You and your companions shall die."
As he spoke he rose and signed to several of his attendants, who
seized Jack, and Peterkin, and me, violently by the collars, and,
dragging us from the hut of the chief, led us through the wood to
the outskirts of the village. Here they thrust us into a species
of natural cave in a cliff, and, having barricaded the entrance,
left us in total darkness.
After feeling about for some time - for our legs were unshackled,
although our wrists were still bound with thongs - we found a low
ledge of rock running along one side of the cavern. On this we
seated ourselves, and for a long time maintained unbroken silence.
At last I could restrain my feelings no longer. "Alas! dear Jack
and Peterkin," said I, "what is to become of us? I fear that we
are doomed to die."
"I know not," replied Jack, in a tremulous voice, "I know not;
Ralph, I regret deeply the hastiness of my violent temper, which, I
must confess, has been the chief cause of our being brought to this
sad condition. Perhaps the teacher may do something for us. But I
have little hope."
"Ah! no," said Peterkin, with a heavy sigh; "I am sure he can't
help us. Tararo doesn't care more for him than for one of his
"Truly," said I, "there seems no chance of deliverance, unless the
Almighty puts forth his arm to save us. Yet I must say that I have
great hope, my comrades, for we have come to this dark place by no
fault of ours - unless it be a fault to try to succour a woman in
I was interrupted in my remarks by a noise at the entrance to the
cavern, which was caused by the removal of the barricade.
Immediately after, three men entered, and, taking us by the collars
of our coats, led us away through the forest. As we advanced, we
heard much shouting and beating of native drums in the village, and
at first we thought that our guards were conducting us to the hut
of Tararo again. But in this we were mistaken. The beating of
drums gradually increased, and soon after we observed a procession
of the natives coming towards us. At the head of this procession
we were placed, and then we all advanced together towards the
temple where human victims were wont to be sacrificed!
A thrill of horror ran through my heart as I recalled to mind the
awful scenes that I had before witnessed at that dreadful spot.
But deliverance came suddenly from a quarter whence we little
expected it. During the whole of that day there had been an
unusual degree of heat in the atmosphere, and the sky assumed that
lurid aspect which portends a thunder-storm. Just as we were
approaching the horrid temple, a growl of thunder burst overhead
and heavy drops of rain began to fall
Those who have not witnessed gales and storms in tropical regions
can form but a faint conception of the fearful hurricane that burst
upon the island of Mango at this time. Before we reached the
temple, the storm burst upon us with a deafening roar, and the
natives, who knew too well the devastation that was to follow, fled
right and left through the woods in order to save their property,
leaving us alone in the midst of the howling storm. The trees
around us bent before the blast like willows, and we were about to
flee in order to seek shelter, when the teacher ran toward us with
a knife in his hand.
"Thank the Lord," he said, cutting our bonds, "I am in time! Now,
seek the shelter of the nearest rock."
This we did without a moment's hesitation, for the whistling wind
burst, ever and anon, like thunder-claps among the trees, and,
tearing them from their roots, hurled them with violence to the
ground. Rain cut across the land in sheets, and lightning played
like forked serpents in the air; while, high above the roar of the
hissing tempest, the thunder crashed, and burst, and rolled in
In the village the scene was absolutely appalling. Roofs were
blown completely off the houses in many cases; and in others, the
houses themselves were levelled with the ground. In the midst of
this, the natives were darting to and fro, in some instances saving
their goods, but in many others seeking to save themselves from the
storm of destruction that whirled around them. But, terrific
although the tempest was on land, it was still more tremendous on
the mighty ocean. Billows sprang, as it were, from the great deep,
and while their crests were absolutely scattered into white mist,
they fell upon the beach with a crash that seemed to shake the
solid land. But they did not end there. Each successive wave
swept higher and higher on the beach, until the ocean lashed its
angry waters among the trees and bushes, and at length, in a sheet
of white curdled foam, swept into the village and upset and carried
off, or dashed into wreck, whole rows of the native dwellings! It
was a sublime, an awful scene, calculated, in some degree at least,
to impress the mind of beholders with the might and the majesty of
We found shelter in a cave that night and all the next day, during
which time the storm raged in fury; but on the night following it
abated somewhat, and in the morning we went to the village to seek
for food, being so famished with hunger that we lost all feeling of
danger and all wish to escape in our desire to satisfy the cravings
of nature. But no sooner had we obtained food than we began to
wish that we had rather endeavoured to make our escape into the
mountains. This we attempted to do soon afterwards, but the
natives were now able to look after us, and on our showing a
disposition to avoid observation and make towards the mountains, we
were seized by three warriors, who once more bound our wrists and
thrust us into our former prison.
It is true Jack made a vigorous resistance, and knocked down the
first savage who seized him, with a well-directed blow of his fist,
but he was speedily overpowered by others. Thus we were again
prisoners, with the prospect of torture and a violent death before
Imprisonment - Sinking hopes - Unexpected freedom to more than one,
and in more senses than one.
FOR a long long month we remained in our dark and dreary prison,
during which dismal time we did not see the face of a human being,
except that of the silent savage who brought us our daily food.
There have been one or two seasons in my life during which I have
felt as if the darkness of sorrow and desolation that crushed my
inmost heart could never pass away, until death should make me
cease to feel the present was such a season.
During the first part of our confinement we felt a cold chill at
our hearts every time we heard a foot-fall near the cave - dreading
lest it should prove to be that of our executioner. But as time
dragged heavily on, we ceased to feel this alarm, and began to
experience such a deep, irrepressible longing for freedom, that we
chafed and fretted in our confinement like tigers. Then a feeling
of despair came over us, and we actually longed for the time when
the savages would take us forth to die! But these changes took
place very gradually, and were mingled sometimes with brighter
thoughts; for there were times when we sat in that dark cavern on
our ledge of rock and conversed almost pleasantly about the past,
until we well-nigh forgot the dreary present. But we seldom
ventured to touch upon the future.
A few decayed leaves and boughs formed our bed; and a scanty supply
of yams and taro, brought to us once a-day, constituted our food.
"Well, Ralph, how have you slept?" said Jack, in a listless tone,
on rising one morning from his humble couch. "Were you much
disturbed by the wind last night?"
"No," said I; "I dreamed of home all night, and I thought that my
mother smiled upon me, and beckoned me to go to her; but I could
not, for I was chained."
"And I dreamed, too," said Peterkin; "but it was of our happy home
on the Coral Island. I thought we were swimming in the Water
Garden; then the savages gave a yell, and we were immediately in
the cave at Spouting Cliff, which, somehow or other, changed into
this gloomy cavern; and I awoke to find it true."
Peterkin's tone was so much altered by the depressing influence of
his long imprisonment, that, had I not known it was he who spoke, I
should scarcely have recognised it, so sad was it, and so unlike to
the merry, cheerful voice we had been accustomed to hear. I
pondered this much, and thought of the terrible decline of
happiness that may come on human beings in so short a time; how
bright the sunshine in the sky at one time, and, in a short space,
how dark the overshadowing cloud! I had no doubt that the Bible
would have given me much light and comfort on this subject, if I
had possessed one, and I once more had occasion to regret deeply
having neglected to store my memory with its consoling truths.
While I meditated thus, Peterkin again broke the silence of the
cave, by saying, in a melancholy tone, "Oh, I wonder if we shall
ever see our dear island more."
His voice trembled, and, covering his face with both hands, he bent
down his head and wept. It was an unusual sight for me to see our
once joyous companion in tears, and I felt a burning desire to
comfort him; but, alas! what could I say? I could hold out no
hope; and although I essayed twice to speak, the words refused to
pass my lips. While I hesitated, Jack sat down beside him, and
whispered a few words in his ear, while Peterkin threw himself on
his friend's breast, and rested his head on his shoulder.
Thus we sat for some time in deep silence. Soon after, we heard
footsteps at the entrance of the cave, and immediately our jailer
entered. We were so much accustomed to his regular visits,
however, that we paid little attention to him, expecting that he
would set down our meagre fare, as usual, and depart. But, to our
surprise, instead of doing so, he advanced towards us with a knife
in his hand, and, going up to Jack, he cut the thongs that bound
his wrists, then he did the same to Peterkin and me! For fully
five minutes we stood in speechless amazement, with our freed hands
hanging idly by our sides. The first thought that rushed into my
mind was, that the time had come to put us to death; and although,
as I have said before, we actually wished for death in the strength
of our despair, now that we thought it drew really near I felt all
the natural love of life revive in my heart, mingled with a chill
of horror at the suddenness of our call
But I was mistaken. After cutting our bonds, the savage pointed to
the cave's mouth, and we marched, almost mechanically, into the
open air. Here, to our surprise, we found the teacher standing
under a tree, with his hands clasped before him, and the tears
trickling down his dark cheeks. On seeing Jack, who came out
first, he sprang towards him, and clasping him in his arms,
"Oh! my dear young friend, through the great goodness of God you
"Free!" cried Jack.
"Ay, free," repeated the teacher, shaking us warmly by the hands
again and again; "free to go and come as you will. The Lord has
unloosed the bands of the captive and set the prisoners free. A
missionary has been sent to us, and Tararo has embraced the
Christian religion! The people are even now burning their gods of
wood! Come, my dear friends, and see the glorious sight."
We could scarcely credit our senses. So long had we been
accustomed in our cavern to dream of deliverance, that we imagined
for a moment this must surely be nothing more than another vivid
dream. Our eyes and minds were dazzled, too, by the brilliant
sunshine, which almost blinded us after our long confinement to the
gloom of our prison, so that we felt giddy with the variety of
conflicting emotions that filled our throbbing bosoms; but as we
followed the footsteps of our sable friend, and beheld the bright
foliage of the trees, and heard the cries of the paroquets, and
smelt the rich perfume of the flowering shrubs, the truth, that we
were really delivered from prison and from death, rushed with
overwhelming power into our souls, and, with one accord, while
tears sprang to our eyes, we uttered a loud long cheer of joy.
It was replied to by a shout from a number of the natives who
chanced to be near. Running towards us, they shook us by the hand
with every demonstration of kindly feeling. They then fell behind,
and, forming a sort of procession, conducted us to the dwelling of
The scene that met our eyes here was one that I shall never forget.
On a rude bench in front of his house sat the chief. A native
stood on his left hand, who, from his dress, seemed to be a
teacher. On his right stood an English gentleman, who, I at once
and rightly concluded, was a missionary. He was tall, thin, and
apparently past forty, with a bald forehead, and thin gray hair.
The expression of his countenance was the most winning I ever saw,
and his clear gray eye beamed with a look that was frank, fearless,
loving, and truthful. In front of the chief was an open space, in
the centre of which lay a pile of wooden idols, ready to be set on
fire; and around these were assembled thousands of natives, who had
come to join in or to witness the unusual sight. A bright smile
overspread the missionary's face as he advanced quickly to meet us,
and he shook us warmly by the hands.
"I am overjoyed to meet you, my dear young friends," he said. "My
friend, and your friend, the teacher, has told me your history; and
I thank our Father in heaven, with all my heart, that he has guided
me to this island, and made me the instrument of saving you."
We thanked the missionary most heartily, and asked him in some
surprise how he had succeeded in turning the heart of Tararo in our
"I will tell you that at a more convenient time," he answered,
"meanwhile we must not forget the respect due to the chief. He
waits to receive you."
In the conversation that immediately followed between us and
Tararo, the latter said that the light of the gospel of Jesus
Christ had been sent to the island, and that to it we were indebted
for our freedom. Moreover, he told us that we were at liberty to
depart in our schooner whenever we pleased, and that we should be
supplied with as much provision as we required. He concluded by
shaking hands with us warmly, and performing the ceremony of
This was indeed good news to us, and we could hardly find words to
express our gratitude to the chief and to the missionary.
"And what of Avatea?" inquired Jack.
The missionary replied by pointing to a group of natives in the
midst of whom the girl stood. Beside her was a tall, strapping
fellow, whose noble mien and air of superiority bespoke him a chief
of no ordinary kind.
"That youth is her lover. He came this very morning in his war-
canoe to treat with Tararo for Avatea. He is to be married in a
few days, and afterwards returns to his island home with his
"That's capital," said Jack, as he stepped up to the savage and
gave him a hearty shake of the hand. "I wish you joy, my lad; -
and you too, Avatea."
As Jack spoke, Avatea's lover took him by the hand and led him to
the spot where Tararo and the missionary stood, surrounded by most
of the chief men of the tribe. The girl herself followed, and
stood on his left hand while her lover stood on his right, and,
commanding silence, made the following speech, which was translated
by the missionary:-
"Young friend, you have seen few years, but your head is old. Your
heart also is large and very brave. I and Avatea are your debtors,
and we wish, in the midst of this assembly, to acknowledge our
debt, and to say that it is one which we can never repay. You have
risked your life for one who was known to you only for a few days.
But she was a woman in distress, and that was enough to secure to
her the aid of a Christian man. We, who live in these islands of
the sea, know that the true Christians always act thus. Their
religion is one of love and kindness. We thank God that so many
Christians have been sent here - we hope many more will come.
Remember that I and Avatea will think of you and pray for you and
your brave comrades when you are far away."
To this kind speech Jack returned a short sailor-like reply, in
which he insisted that he had only done for Avatea what he would
have done for any woman under the sun. But Jack's forte did not
lie in speech-making, so he terminated rather abruptly by seizing
the chief's hand and shaking it violently, after which he made a
"Now, then, Ralph and Peterkin," said Jack, as we mingled with the
crowd, "it seems to me that the object we came here for having been
satisfactorily accomplished, we have nothing more to do but get
ready for sea as fast as we can, and hurrah for dear old England!"
"That's my idea precisely," said Peterkin, endeavouring to wink,
but he had wept so much of late, poor fellow, that he found it
difficult; "however, I'm not going away till I see these fellows
burn their gods."
Peterkin had his wish, for, in a few minutes afterwards, fire was
put to the pile, the roaring flames ascended, and, amid the
acclamations of the assembled thousands, the false gods of Mango
were reduced to ashes!
TO part is the lot of all mankind. The world is a scene of
constant leave-taking, and the hands that grasp in cordial greeting
to-day, are doomed ere long to unite for the last time, when the
quivering lips pronounce the word - "Farewell." It is a sad
thought, but should we on that account exclude it from our minds?
May not a lesson worth learning be gathered in the contemplation of
it? May it not, perchance, teach us to devote our thoughts more
frequently and attentively to that land where we meet, but part no
How many do we part from in this world with a light "Good-bye,"
whom we never see again! Often do I think, in my meditations on
this subject, that if we realized more fully the shortness of the
fleeting intercourse that we have in this world with many of our
fellow-men, we would try more earnestly to do them good, to give
them a friendly smile, as it were, in passing (for the longest
intercourse on earth is little more than a passing word and
glance), and show that we have sympathy with them in the short
quick struggle of life, by our kindly words and looks and action.
The time soon drew near when we were to quit the islands of the
South Seas; and, strange though it may appear, we felt deep regret
at parting with the natives of the island of Mango; for, after they
embraced the Christian faith, they sought, by showing us the utmost
kindness, to compensate for the harsh treatment we had experienced
at their hands; and we felt a growing affection for the native
teachers and the missionary, and especially for Avatea and her
Before leaving, we had many long and interesting conversations with
the missionary, in one of which he told us that he had been making
for the island of Raratonga when his native-built sloop was blown
out of its course, during a violent gale, and driven to this
island. At first the natives refused to listen to what he had to
say; but, after a week's residence among them, Tararo came to him
and said that he wished to become a Christian, and would burn his
idols. He proved himself to be sincere, for, as we have seen, he
persuaded all his people to do likewise. I use the word persuaded
advisedly; for, like all the other Feejee chiefs, Tararo was a
despot and might have commanded obedience to his wishes; but he
entered so readily into the spirit of the new faith that he
perceived at once the impropriety of using constraint in the
propagation of it. He set the example, therefore; and that example
was followed by almost every man of the tribe.
During the short time that we remained at the island, repairing our
vessel and getting her ready for sea, the natives had commenced
building a large and commodious church, under the superintendence
of the missionary, and several rows of new cottages were marked
out; so that the place bid fair to become, in a few months, as
prosperous and beautiful as the Christian village at the other end
of the island.
After Avatea was married, she and her husband were sent away,
loaded with presents, chiefly of an edible nature. One of the
native teachers went with them, for the purpose of visiting still
more distant islands of the sea, and spreading, if possible, the
light of the glorious gospel there.
As the missionary intended to remain for several weeks longer, in
order to encourage and confirm his new converts, Jack and Peterkin
and I held a consultation in the cabin of our schooner, - which we
found just as we had left her, for everything that had been taken
out of her was restored. We now resolved to delay our departure no
longer. The desire to see our beloved native land was strong upon
us, and we could not wait.
Three natives volunteered to go with us to Tahiti, where we thought
it likely that we should be able to procure a sufficient crew of
sailors to man our vessel; so we accepted their offer gladly.
It was a bright clear morning when we hoisted the snow-white sails
of the pirate schooner and left the shores of Mango. The
missionary, and thousands of the natives, came down to bid us God-
speed, and to see us sail away. As the vessel bent before a light
fair wind, we glided quickly over the lagoon under a cloud of
Just as we passed through the channel in the reef the natives gave
us a loud cheer; and as the missionary waved his hat, while he
stood on a coral rock with his gray hairs floating in the wind, we
heard the single word "Farewell" borne faintly over the sea.
That night, as we sat on the taffrail, gazing out upon the wide sea
and up into the starry firmament, a thrill of joy, strangely mixed
with sadness, passed through our hearts, - for we were at length
"homeward bound," and were gradually leaving far behind us the
beautiful, bright, green, coral islands of the Pacific Ocean.
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