That last night in Marquesan waters, as Cleaves and I sat on the fore-deck of the anchored Jezbel, listening to the talk of Leaping Fire, the Polynesian midshipman, the Bay of Traitors was lit with an eerie glow. Along Taha-uka, from the rockbound shore where the surf hurled its futile rage upon a Bastile of dun-colored stone, to the somnolent lights of Hivaoa dreaming beneath the black thunders of Temetiu, legions of phosphorus battled in green strife.
“Yonder is the isle of Taoha, Menikes.” Leaping Fire was saying, pointing with his tattooed arm toward what seemed a mass of stone rising upon the moonlit night, his speech punctuated by the creaking of the boom as it swung with the slide and heave of the lazy rollers. “In the days before the Christian God came, when Po, the Power of Darkness, ruled the islands, the sea-robbers of Tahiti used to hide their treasures there—somewhere near the High Place and the Vale Where Dead Men Walk.”
“The Vale Where Dead Men Walk,” I echoed. “What is that?”
“A Valley below the High Place. From the sacrificial Altar of Po the old chiefs used to hurl their victims into the gorge—in the days when the island was called Bloody Taoha …”
Once a Polynesian always a Polynesian, and in the South Sea Islander there still lurks a desire for the taste of human flesh. And I imagined that as he spoke Leaping Fire could again hear, not without joy, the savage throbbing of rawhide drums in the dank, purple valleys of Bloody Taoha.
“Is the island still inhabited?” This from Cleaves.
“Yes. Years ago there were more than a thousand warriors on Taoha, but with the white man came plagues and wars—until now there are less than fifty. Mahatma is the chief, but he is slowly drinking himself to death with Kava. Ah, Menikes, the history of Taoha, the dying island is written in blood—and the future … But who knows the future?”
“I’d like to visit the island,” observed Cleaves.
“Do not go to Taoha,” warned Leaping Fire, “It is accursed. All die upon Taoha. And some say—” He paused.
“What?” I urged.
“Some say that the spirits of the Tahitian pirates return from under the earth to guard their treasures …”
Cleaves and I gazed seaward to the isle of tragic history, a bulk of stone that bared its nakedness to the low-hung tropic stars.
“Lay you two to one I can beat you swimming to the island, Rundel,” spoke up Cleaves.
I smiled. “Take you up.”
“It is two miles away!” protested Leaping Fire. “And in the bay are mako and feke—fierce, man-devouring sharks and devil-fish!”
But we would not listen to him; the tales of hidden loot and crimson deeds had stirred our blood.
“I’m for the swim, sharks or no sharks,” said I, without bravado, for I did not realize the danger. “And as long as I’ve been in the tropics I have run across only one devil-fish. I’ll tell you, Cleaves, we’ll see who can reach the High Place first, you taking one end of the island and I the other, equalizing the distance. What do you say?”
“You do not know the way to—” began the Polynesian.
“Perhaps,” interposed Cleaves. “But you will tell us. Moreover, you and a couple of the crew will follow in a whale-boat and wait on the beach to bring us back. The race will be to the High Place and back to the whale-boat, the first one reaching the High Place piling several stones on the altar to let the other know he’s been there.”
That was how it began. Down in the tropics men do queer things. The savage song of the surf on the coral reefs is a tune of lawlessness.
Twenty minutes later Cleaves and I, stripped but for bathing trunks, were descending the gangway-stairs while Leaping Fire and others of the crew lowered a whale-boat.
“I warned you, Menikes,” Leaping Fire called to us sadly from the deck.
And I laughed—for his tales of piracy and the feel of the amorous wind on my body had aroused the sleeping boy within me.
“Ready?” asked Cleaves—and I nodded.
Side by side we plunged into the green bay. The water was mildly cool— old wine to the muscles.
When I returned to the surface I struck out toward the island, which seemed a mass of dark-ridden rocks beneath the fiery Southern Cross. Several yards away, the phosphorus leaping about him, was Cleaves, headed for the northern end of Taoha.
That swim whipped the blood into every fiber and sinew of the being. Thinking little of sharks or devil-fish, I crossed the ruffled Bay of Traitors, and within an hour, a bit sore of thews I confess, I touched the sand on the southern end of the island.
Rarely have I seen such tropical beauty as on Taoha—cool white sands, strewn with sea-weed and curious shells; forests of mangoes, cocoanut-palms and bread-fruit; towering basalt rocks, honeycombed with caves and seeming riven with bronze as countless cascades and waterfalls caught the tarnished argent of the moon.
Following the Polynesian’s instructions, I walked several rods down the beach and found the nearly obliterated trail that he had described, a path leading into a dark hollow.
Across valleys and ridges I sprinted, in the shadow of dripping rocks where the atmosphere was saturated with moisture, beneath feis-plants and the crimson-flowered huta-tree, not infrequently passing ruined paepaes, meager evidence of the gradual death of the little island.
After a trot of about a mile I gained the summit of a hill where red jasmine and orchids bloomed in profusion, and halted, breathless, looking upon what I knew to be the mist-laden Vale Where Dead Men Walk.
Here the stars seemed to hang lower, so low that the smell of them was in the atmosphere. Across the earth depression, stone ledges rose from the deep-sunken valley and the moonlight struck the bare rocks, transforming them from dead matter into living sheets of light.
The Vale Where Dead Men Walk; well named; for a vague Something made me aware of its presence in the air by an imaginary, nevertheless ponderous, weight upon the lungs … as if the souls of the perished sea-robbers surged back upon the valley.
As I slowly descended the ridge— slowly because of a strange reluctance to hurry—I had the uncanny feeling of one invading the dominion of the dead. Even the rank odors of the flowers suggested death.
The ascent of the ledges was not without difficulty; footholds were treacherous and more than once the roots of vines yielded to my weight, leaving me swinging at dizzy heights; but after ten minutes of breathless climbing, I dragged my full six feet over the edge of the High Altar and stood upright beside the Altar of Po.
Evidently Cleaves had not arrived. The decaying altar was bare.
The High Place of Taoha crowned a gorge—a wound that gaped in the stomach of the earth like the heel-mark of a giant conqueror. At the bottom of a sheer drop of ten feet a narrow ledge clung to the stone walls, winding down into the orchid and fern-grown canon where the monster boulders threw their shadows across the rushing stream.
On the side of the gorge opposite where I stood, a cave leered blackly from the rocks, and not far away was the lagoon, flanked with palm-fronds, a connecting link between river and sea. A mild roar insinuated itself upon the air —the combined booming of the gorge stream and the not distant surf.
The savage, lawless splendor exerted over me an awesome spell and my imagination, ever eager to slip its leash, painted sinister figures in the gorge, ghostly shapes that materialized in the maw of the black cave.
Of a sudden the blood began to throb through my head—for no conjuring of the fancy had created those forms; they were real, moving as phantoms upon the background of creepers that sprawled over the walls.
I dropped flat on my stomach, the touch of my skin upon the moist, cold stone sending a quick thrill trickling along my sensory nerves.
The figures, five in number, all lithe of body with the exception of one, crawled stealthily out of the gorge, and when they attained the top of the opposite side were swallowed by the breadfruit and cocoanut-palms.
I continued to stare at the trees where they vanished. Men—islanders from the color of their naked skins—coming from the cave. It was rather intriguing, even insidious, and I immediately determined to penetrate the cave whose jaws had spewn them.
As I swung down from the High Place, dropping on the narrow ledge, I regretted my hasty action. The wiser plan would have been to wait for Cleaves, but I had started, without him, and being young, which is to say stubborn, too, I decided to finish it alone.
More than once during that perilous descent into the gorge did I wish I had abandoned my purpose on the narrow trail below the High Place.
At length, a bit bruised and smarting from contact with the rocks, I found myself before the cave. Its mouth breathed damp, foul odors—the smell of fish and stale salt. A gradual incline went down into its throat, vanishing in somber darkness.
I felt a queer dread of the place as I entered and before I had advanced many yards this aversion increased to terror. In the dank, foul air was an element that inspired in me a sensation similar to the one I had experienced as I crossed the Vale Where Dead Men Walk —the ponderous weight upon the chest.
I wondered if by chance I was exploring a hiding place of the old Tahitian pirates, and if, in this gullet of darkness, I would stumble upon chests of loot—green with the rust and mold of ages. These thoughts, fanciful though they were, lured me on, drew me as in response to a magnet, deeper into the bowels of the earth.
I could hear a distant booming—like the surf upon the rocks. Other than that, and a drip-drip-drip of water somewhere in the unseen cavity, it ached with the stillness of a sepulchre.
After fully three minutes of groping forward my outstretched hands came into contact with a fungi-grown wall and as I turned to the left, my fingers slipping over the damp surface, I saw a broad strip of anæmic light streaking the darkness. It was very singular, such an illumination, apparently born of itself in the cavern, and I stood motionless, trying to discover its source.
It was a noise that moved me—a groan—such as I once heard from the throat of a wounded devil-fish—a sound thrice hideous in the darksome cave. Had I coughed the following moment my heart would have lain upon the floor.
From the vague light the groan had come, causing me to take an involuntary step—and not in the direction of the streak of illumination. I wanted to bolt it, but instead I forced myself to wait for a repetition of the noise, and when a moment had passed in silence, emboldened by the hush, I moved toward the strange glow.
As I reached it I almost laughed. In the ceiling of the cave was a gap of great depth and breadth that admitted the moonlight, thus creating the singular and startling pillar of light. Stars were visible, too—no longer low-hung, but seeming at distances illimitable.
I had almost forgotten the terrible groan in my discovery when it was repeated, weaker, nevertheless stirring the hair on my scalp.
My eyes swept the shadows that hugged the pillar of light, and now, somewhat accustomed to the gloom, I could make out many square shapes beyond the glow—objects that I perceived to be nothing less than sea-chests.
The sight of them quickened my pulse. Iron-bound sea-chests; rusty locks; doubloons …
I could not reach the nearest chest quick enough and as my fingers found the lock they trembled violently. To my surprise the lid yielded—but not without a shrill of protest from the ancient hinges.
I moved to the next one. Following the shriek of the unoiled iron, sheer horror drove its rapier the length of my body. I drew back, terrified, yet fascinated.
In the huge sea-chest, face upturned, was a man.
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I cannot adequately define my emotions. I was filled with a craven desire to run, to shut the lid upon the body, to do anything to escape the horrid cavern. How long I stood there, stiff with fright, I do not know, but it was some time, and the third groan aroused me from the fear-stupor.
He was alive, I told myself—probably injured. …
I forced myself to grip the figure and drag it from the sea-chest into the pallid moonlight.
It was a slim Marquesan youth, naked but for a pareu, an ugly blade driven hard into his stomach. The sight of the wound sickened me. His eyes were open and upon me—large, pathetic eyes. With him life was a matter of minutes.
A surge of pity for the young body swept me. The death of youth is always a grim affair—a dark portal closing upon sublime vistas.
To my surprise he smiled—a rather ghastly expression.
“Menike,” he whispered, something dark upon his lips. “You, you help me … I—”
“Go on,” I urged as his voice trailed off, and although I knew he was beyond the aid of man I added. “I will help you.”
Again the ghastly smile. “Tahaiupehii—Daughter of the Pigeon—she—”
Well, I finally got the story, a tale of tears and flowers such as one would expect to hear on this dying island, told between gasps for breath:
His name was Red Moon. On Taoha was a maiden whom he desired for his wife—Tahaiupehii, Daughter of the Pigeon, pale of throat and dark of eyes. She was the child of Mahuma, the chief. Habuhamo, a chieftain of Fatu-hiva, also coveted the fair Tahaiupehii—and Habuhamo was fat and degenerate, and Daughter of the Pigeon despised him, for she, in turn, loved Red Moon.
On this evening Red Moon had received a message to come to the Cave of the Laughing Lepers and as he entered he was attacked by Habuhamo and his men … stabbed. Before they put him in the sea-chest the obese Habuhamo told him that it was his intention to go to the paepae of Mahuma, the drinker of Kava, and steal the moon-throated Daughter of the Pigeon—after he had killed her father. …
In the end he asked if I, the Menike, would follow Habuhamo and his men to the paepae of Mahuma and save Tahaiupehii. He was dying, he whispered, and if I did not go …
As he finished his story he did a plucky thing—he withdrew the knife with a feeble wrench from his stomach, his tawny face convulsed with agony.
“You take knife,” he muttered, handing the bloody weapon to me, “You carry Red Moon on … back—and Red Moon show you paepae of Mahuma …” I did not believe the boy would last three minutes, but I lifted him as gently as I could and slung him on my back.
When I reached the High Place, after a tortuous ascent from the gorge with Red Moon clinging to my neck, I was disappointed. I had hoped that by good fortune I would meet my friend here, but instead of Cleaves I found a pile of stones upon the Altar of Po.
That journey from the Cave of the Laughing Lepers to the house of Mahuma is burned into my memory. After what seemed deathless aeons of plunging through jungles, a light glimmered among the trees. When Red Moon saw it he begged to be left here, saying he was an encumbrance now.
“Save her, Menike,” he pleaded piteously as I placed him on the round, death seeping into the liquid black eyes. “Tell her that …”
But I never knew what to tell her. From his lips came a sound like the flutter of beating wings … .
I left him there, resolved to return later and bury him, and with the bloody knife that he had given me, I crept into the clearing around the thatched bamboo house. Lights shone from the door and one window.
Climbing upon the paepae, I crawled to the lighted window. It opened out from a small cool room with green mats and bamboo walls. The five Marquesas were there, wearing crimson pareus and necklaces of shark’s-teeth, all slim but one whom I knew to be Habuhamo. He was clad in a scarlet and yellow kahu-ropa, his big nose ringed with an ornament; fat and greasy in the light of the whale-oil lamp, with red, piglike eyes—a thing to loathe instantly.
The chief was speaking so swiftly in Marquesan that I, with only my smattering of the tongue, could not thoroughly understand him, and before I comprehended the full import of his words the four warriors filed out of the bamboo dwelling. I hardly bad the opportunity to drop in the shadows before they emerged.
I lay still, not daring to move or hardly breathe, until I heard their padded footsteps growing fainter, then I became bold enough to raise my eyes—just in time to see the last of the four vanish in the gloom of a path that deserted the clearing for the jungle.
Once more I peered within the house.
Habuhamo was seated Turk-fashion on the green mats, his back to the doorway. I smiled with anticipation, for I hated him, not with the antagonism that is often the result of clashing personalities, but with a deep loathing as for some crawling thing of the earth.
Gripping the blood-soiled knife I moved to the door and crept stealthily inside, halting a few feet behind Habuhamo. At that instant some psychic current conveyed to him the fact that he was not alone. He glanced over his shoulder and I looked straight into the narrow, piglike eyes.
The sound that issued from between his moist lips was like nothing human. He tried to make his feet, but I was upon him, one arm encircling his thick neck, the blade poised above his heart.
“I ought to kill you instantly, Habuhamo,” I said in my bastard Marquesan, “but there is something I want to know before—”
“No, no, don’t kill!” he whimpered in poor English, “I spik English—”
“Where is Mahuma—and Tahaiupehii?” I demanded.
Habuhamo’s red-shot eyes moved to a dark doorway on the left and I involuntarily loosened the grasp about his throat—and as I did he wrenched free, staggering to his feet with the scream of an angry boar. I scarcely had time to balance myself for the onslaught before the soft body was hurled upon me and his arms pressed me to his breast. I caught the reek of rum—and Habuhamo … .
I struck with doubled fist instead of the knife—the left fist. It went home in the solar plexus, carrying my whole weight behind it, a foul blow I admit, and with that inhuman cry the island chief pitched forward like a sodden piece of driftwood upon the green mats.
I stood above him, breathing hard and trying to clear my nostrils of the odor of him. He did not move. I turned his bulk over with my bare foot and the feel of it sickened me.
That solar plexus blow had done him to unconsciousness. Habuhamo was out of it for at least fifteen minutes….
I moved into the adjoining room. Dark—but not so dark that I could not see the body on the floor. Instinct told me it was Mahuma. The wound was a nasty one—such as had been dealt Red Moon. Mahuma seemed so old, so helpless as he lay there in his own blood.
And Daughter of the Pigeon—what of her?
The dwelling boasted of three rooms and Tahaiupehii was in none.
As I quitted the room where Habuhamo lay upon the green mats, emerging upon the paepae, my eyes alighted upon the jungle trail that the islanders had taken. It was the only course left to pursue and I plunged between the whispering foliage.
I knew the path led seaward, for I could hear the breakers and the pounding of the surf in the blow-holes, but I was not prepared for what I saw.
The jungle dropped away before a ledge whose quartz-like surface scintillated in the moonlight. Several yards beyond the brush a narrow stream flung its torrents over spray-dashed rocks, tumbling headlong into a huge bowl of solid granite fully nineteen feet below, and here, still foaming furiously from the fall, it swirled between stone banks toward the sea.
At the juncture where the river met rough water lofty cliffs overhung the beach, pierced with innumerable caves.
I found myself on the very verge of the cataract before I knew it. Below, on a flat rock at one side of the pool, was a form, slim and pale as a flame, the slender shoulders lost in masses of dark hair.
Daughter of the Pigeon, I knew— for as she stood poised on the brink of the huge granite bowl she was as fair as that winged creature after which she was named. I could see that she wore a pareu twisted about her.
Not two yards behind her an islander was squirming over the spray-wet stone. Following him was another. On the opposite side of the pool the other Marquesans were crouched behind boulders.
Unaware of her danger, Tahaiupehii stood on the edge of the rock, but even as I looked, her straight body flashed through the air, plunging into the foam.
As she vanished beneath the water one of the islanders crawled to the rim of the pool. An instant later her head appeared and she must have seen him, for a cry rang above the dull boom of the waterfall.
The Marquesan slipped into the pool.
I experienced a moment of indecision; my brain strove to function quickly. The two figures were almost side by side in the current. Nineteen feet—a straight drop, and I did not know the depth. Yet …
I gripped the blade between my teeth; took a deep breath. After that I was conscious of shooting through space … down … into what seemed a depthless pit. I struck the pool—went under with a force that lashed my flesh and expelled the air from my lungs.
In the battle against the torrent I almost lost the knife, but in some manner I managed to retain it. Through a whirling, opaque mass I came up, every inch of my body stinging.
Not more than a rod away I saw the two figures. I caught the gleam of grappling arms—saw a face that in the night was pale like blue moonlight, as exquisitely beautiful as any I have ever seen … .
In a moment I reached them, closing about the shining dark neck. With the other hand I swung the knife. Together we sank. In that gray chaos we struggled, I slashing with the deadly blade.
Of a sudden it was conveyed to my brain, along with a strangling sensation, that my hand was holding nothing—that the knife-thrusts had told. I buoyed myself upward and attained the surface—alone. I doubt if the native ever came up.
It must have been a rock that sent me out. At any rate the pain was sharp— in the back of the skull. Things went dim, I realized that a hand gripped my hair—then I knew … nothing.
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The sleep that followed was not calm—nor can I hardly call it sleep, for during the whole period I had a peculiar awareness of things, of movement and a sound like unleashed thunder.
And with the advent of full consciousness I was not, as I expected, in the water, although it was damp and I could feel a cool spray upon my body.
I sat upright on cold stone, my head aching dreadfully. Something close at hand was roaring and in a hazy way I realized that the noise was responsible for the spray; but as my vision cleared I saw only dimness broken on one side by a glimmering sheet that was a shade lighter than the surrounding gloom.
Gradually I comprehended. I was under the waterfall, in a dark recess in the rocks; the shifting curtain was nothing less than the cascading water.
Then I was startled by a voice almost at my elbow, speaking in Marquesan— “Menike, you are awake—at last?”
I knew her instantly, though she was little more than a blot in the dimness. Tahaiupehii—that exquisite young creature whose face I had seen momentarily as I fought the islander.
“I am glad you have come back, Menike,” she said, creeping closer to me and slipping her small spray-wet hand in mine. Her nearness made me conscious of a pleasant odor—that of red jasmine. “Your head hit a rock—and I was afraid …”
“You saved me, Tahaiupehii?” I asked.
“I saw you as you dived from above —knew that you had done it to save me from Habuhamo’s men. After you were hurt I swam with you to this cave under the waterfall.”
I looked about me. A grim, loathsome place. I imagined there were creeping things upon the rock floor. But it was sanctuary.
“You were very brave,” I commended, wondering how I was going to acquaint her with the truth.
My vision was becoming better regulated now, and with the aid of the pale light that filtered through the liquid curtain I could see her tawny face. Daughter of the Pigeon—less than seventeen, I knew, a symphony of the world’s sorrow, a living symbol of that tragic isle to which she belonged.
“How did you happen here, Menike?” she questioned. “White men rarely come to Taoha any more. …”
So I told her then—told her of my swim to the island and the discovery of Red Moon in the sea-chest in the Cave of the Laughing Lepers; told her of the death of her boy-lover near the paepae of Mahuma, and the finding of her father’s body in the bamboo room.
Man is ever crude in the presence of bereavement, and my words must have been dagger-thrusts. She wept … of course. Father and lover in a night. And as she sat there, drenched with spray, clad only in the dripping pareu, a tragically lovely figure, she recalled to me a field of lilies that I had once seen … just before the dawn, when the dew was upon their chaste petals.
“Be calm, O Tahaiupehii.” I enjoined gently, endeavoring to invest my sympathy in the words. “You are still in danger. Tell me, is anyone else aware of this cave?”
“I do not know, Menike.”
“If it is unknown to Habuhamo’s men they will think us drowned—but if it is known—they will come after us —or wait. …”
Her small hand was still in mine and I felt her shudder.
“Ah, I cannot stay here—in this darkness—thinking of Red Moon and my father! We must dive under the waterfall and swim for the sea!”
I doubted the wisdom of such action and expressed my opinion, to which she replied: “We cannot discover if Habuhamo’s men are waiting by remaining here—and if they know of the cave and come after us—then the chances for escape will be less.”
I thought of Cleaves and the men— probably searching the island for me, and said, “My friends are somewhere on Taoha—and if we can make the sea —in the event Habuhamo’s men are waiting—”
“Only for your safety do I care,” she broke in. “You exposed yourself to danger for me, but I— All that I ever cared for is gone. Let another page of the history of this doomed island be written—in my blood—for rather than submit to Habuhamo I would kill myself.”
I felt a bit hysterical; I wanted to laugh. Such odds. Three islanders, probably searching the island for me, girl and me. It might have been rare sport had she not been there, but her presence gave the situation a horrid twist.
“Come, Menike.” I heard her say. “Let us go. This place stifles me—”
It burned me to think of Habuhamo alive. I wished that I had used the knife upon his corrupt body … .
“Very well, Tahaiupehii,” I agreed after a moment; “swim under water as far as you can—and stay ahead of me. I’ll attend to Habuhamo’s men.” I saw her smile—a fixed, lifeless expression.
My heart went cold within me as we swung down from the dripping rocks of the cavern. As the deluge showered her slim body I caught a glimpse of her face, paler than the whitest moons.
That plunge was a horror to me. Bruised and breathless, my vision flecked with fire, I sank … down … into a reeling, watery world. My feet touched bottom before I was able to begin the fight upward, and when at last I gained the surface I dashed the spray from my eyes.
Tahaiupehii was a yard or more ahead of me, arms agleam in the moonlight. They were there, the three islanders, sleek and sinister, slipping down from the bank of granite basin. There was a fourth, too, a fat, sprawling form high on the rocks. Habuhamo.”
Again I wished I had killed him in the bamboo hut.
The islanders were between Tahaiupehii and me, and Habuhamo was running along the shore parallel to the girl.
Straight after the Marquesans I swam until I was abreast of the rear one. He was a wiry fellow, smaller than I, with an ugly blade gripped in his teeth. I struck him between the eyes and literally tore the knife from his mouth. As he sank I saw something black upon his lips.
After that objects swam in a blur— blended water and rocks and over all the tranquil moon. Instead of launching an offensive against the other two natives, I succeeded in gaining a lead on them, and side by side Tahaiupehii and I were borne with the churning river. Occasionally I glanced behind at the pursuing islanders and that obese effigy on the bank.
With the deadliness of sharks the Marquesans followed—down with the boom and thunder of the stream into the mouth of the sea. Here the conflicting currents caught us in their turbulence and lashed us toward the giant rocks that fringed the shore.
A new peril loomed in the shape of the crags where the surf gave vent to its wrath, and we swam with all the strength we could assemble against the menace. Tahaiupehii was the first to reach the shore. I saw blood on her shoulder where the sea had flung her cruelly upon a jutting stone in her attempt to crawl from the surf.
I was not far behind her, and as I staggered out of the thrashing water the bulky figure of Habuhamo appeared from behind the rocks of the river bank. Trapped. I threw the girl a look of futility. It was the finish, unless …
“The cave!” I shouted, pressing the knife into her hand and pointing to a nearby cavity in the rugged cliffs. “Defend yourself until I come—”
I caught the gleam of her pallid face as she obeyed.
Habuhamo must come first, I told myself—but Fate decided otherwise. Upon glancing back I perceived that one of the Marquesans had reached the shore and was clambering upon the rocks with a slim blade in his hand.
I looked about for some means of defense and my eyes dropped to the broken bits of boulders that lay at my feet. I bent and gripped one, lifted it above my head and let it fly. It struck him on the forehead with an ugly sound—like a crushed cocoanut shell .
Throwing a glance toward the cave I saw Tahaiupehii entering, Habuhamo at her heels. As I started to follow, a lean something from behind closed about my ankle—the hand of the last Marquesan, a terrible-looking fellow, naked and tattooed to a king’s delight.
With a bound he was upon me, and I let go my fist, sending him rolling among the rocks. Regaining my feet, I reached his side and bent over him. How I accomplished the following feat I do not know—but I grasped him by the nape of the neck and one limb and lifted him clawing above me; staggered to the edge of the surf and hurled him head-first into the shallow water.
As the weight left my hands I fell back on the rocks, but was up instantly —for the picture of Tahaiupehii as she darted into the cave, followed by that obese chief, was written in crimson on my brain.
Shortly I reached the mouth of the cave, a huge gap in the cliffs, only partially roofed and under almost two feet of water. From the rear came a muffled roar.
Splashing through water above my knees, often stumbling in the dimness, I covered what seemed miles, plunging with every step further into the cave.
At an abrupt turn I was brought into an outlet that ran between lofty walls. The light of the yellow moon intruded upon the gloom, faintly revealing the sucking, snarling tide that rolled over the rocks and eddied between the cliffs.
They were there—Tahaiupehii and Habuhamo, locked together on the surface of a boulder. As I rounded the corner I saw her thrust him away and down upon him, something glistening held over her heart.
I shrieked—but the gnashing of the surf devoured my voice.
Habuhamo sprang—and at his first movement Tahaiupehii plunged the shining thing into her breast. …
I closed my eyes; I think I reeled, too, so sick with horror was I. When I regained the mastery of myself I dashed through the water, which was now just below my armpits, and drew myself upon the boulder where Habuhamo stood.
I struck him from behind, knocked him flat upon the stone and threw myself upon him, pinning him beneath my weight and sending my doubled fist time after time into the bloated, horrid face.
My reason surrendered wholly to a frightful lust to murder. Blind to all except the bloodshot eyes beneath me, eyes that were glazed with horror, that beseeched mercy, I thrashed him, tore at his skin with my fingernails; choked him, beat his face until its grotesque mutilation forced a hysterical laugh from my throat.
My own madness nauseated me, yet not once did I falter or weaken in the ghastly business—not until the body was lifeless, and with my bruised, bloody hands I pushed it to the edge of the boulder and kicked it into the delirious water.
The last glimpse I had of that sodden, rum-soaked flesh called Habuhamo was as the surf flung its foaming arms about it and dragged it out to sea.
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The Darkness Of Po
Tahaiupehii was conscious when I knelt beside her on the edge—slim and white as fire, her wet dark hair spread in a tangle about her lovely face. More than ever her features seemed fashioned from blue moonlight.
“Tahaiupehii, Tahaiupehii!” I cried, trying to make myself heard above the surf. “I will take you out to my yacht —and you will get well—”
Daughter of the Pigeon smiled, not at me or what I said, but because, I believe, she heard another voice ringing clear above the tumult of the sea—the voice of her boy-lover in the darkness of Po.
She did not stir again; only lay there, lips locked, the childish smile frozen on her face.
I carried her down to the beach and placed her gently on the white sands. I shall never forget her as she lay there, her exquisite body dashed with the salt spray of the sea, the wound between her breasts as dark as a tropical gardenia.
A half hour later Cleaves and Leaping Fire came upon us on the beach. They were about to abandon the search for me, believing me gone to the sharks. After I told them the story we carried Tahaiupehii to the paepae of her father, and here, not far from the bamboo house that had known her love and sorrow, we buried her… between Mahuma and Red Moon.
Several hours afterward I was on the deck of the Jezbel, and while a sullen, red-shot dawn flared above the thunders of Temetiu, the yacht throbbed out of the Bay of Traitors.
The last sight that I had of Taoha, the dying isle, was through the morning fog, a haze that lay upon it like a spirit hand … as if the volcano that in ages past had spewn it above the green Pacific was reaching up from fathomless depths to reclaim it.”
O Tahaiupehii—paepae kaoka!
~ The End ~