That carved stone and the marble hand
took a great hold of my imagination. What did
they mean? How could they have come to the bottom
of that hole, unless indeed they were part of some
building and its ornaments which had been destroyed
in the neighbourhood? The stone of which we had
only uncovered a corner seemed far too big to have
been carried there from any ship; it must have weighed
several tons. Besides, ships do not carry such
things about the world, and none had visited this
island during the last two centuries at any rate, or
local tradition would have recorded so wonderful a
fact. Were there, then, once edifices covered
with elegant carving standing on this place, and were
they adorned with lovely statues that would not have
disgraced the best period of Greek art? The thing
was incredible except on the supposition that these
were relics of an utterly lost civilisation.
Bickley was as much puzzled as myself.
All he could say was that the world was infinitely
old and many things might have happened in it whereof
we had no record. Even Bastin was excited for
a little while, but as his imagination was represented
by zero, all he could say was:
“I suppose someone left them
there, and anyhow it doesn’t matter much, does
But I, who have certain leanings towards
the ancient and mysterious, could not be put off in
this fashion. I remembered that unapproachable
mountain in the midst of the lake and that on it appeared
to be something which looked like ruins as seen from
the top of the cliff through glasses. At any
rate this was a point, that I might clear up.
Saying nothing to anybody, one morning
I slipped away and walked to the edge of the lake,
a distance of five or six miles over rough country.
Having arrived there I perceived that the cone-shaped
mountain in the centre, which was about a mile from
the lake shore, was much larger than I had thought,
quite three hundred feet high indeed, and with a very
large circumference. Further, its sides evidently
once had been terraced, and it was on one of these
broad terraces, half-way up and facing towards the
rising sun, that the ruin-like remains were heaped.
I examined them through my glasses. Undoubtedly
it was a cyclopean ruin built of great blocks of coloured
stone which seemed to have been shattered by earthquake
or explosion. There were the pillars of a mighty
gateway and the remains of walls.
I trembled with excitement as I stared
and stared. Could I not get to the place and
see for myself? I observed that from the flat
bush-clad land at the foot of the mountain, ran out
what seemed to be the residue of a stone pier which
ended in a large table-topped rock between two and
three hundred feet across. But even this was too
far to reach by swimming, besides for aught I knew
there might be alligators in that lake. I walked
up and down its borders, till presently I came to a
path which led into a patch of some variety of cotton
Following this path I discovered a
boat-house thatched over with palm leaves. Inside
it were two good canoes with their paddles, floating
and tied to the stumps of trees by fibre ropes.
Instantly I made up my mind that I would paddle to
the island and investigate. Just as I was about
to step into one of the canoes the light was cut off.
Looking up I saw that a man was crouching in the door-place
of the boat-house in order to enter, and paused guiltily.
(that was the name that these islanders had given
to me), said the voice of Marama, “say what
are you doing here?”
“I am about to take a row on
the lake, Chief,” I answered carelessly.
“Indeed, Friend. Have we
then treated you so badly that you are tired of life?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Come out into the sunlight, Friend, and I will
explain to you.”
I hesitated till I saw Marama lifting
the heavy wooden spear he carried and remembered that
I was unarmed. Then I came out.
“What does all this mean, Chief?”
I asked angrily when we were clear of the patch of
“I mean, Friend, that you have
been very near to making a longer journey than you
thought. Have patience now and listen to me.
I saw you leaving the village this morning and followed,
suspecting your purpose. Yes, I followed alone,
saying nothing to the priests of Oro who fortunately
were away watching the Bellower for their own reasons.
I saw you searching out the secrets of the mountain
with those magic tubes that make things big that are
small, and things that are far off come near, and
I followed you to the canoes.”
“All that is plain enough, Marama. But
“Have I not told you, Friend-from-the-Sea,
that yonder hill which is called Orofena, whence this
island takes its name, is sacred?”
“You said so, but what of it?”
“This: to set foot thereon
is to die and, I suppose, great as you are, you, too,
can die like others. At least, although I love
you, had you not come away from that canoe I was about
to discover whether this is so.”
“Then for what are the canoes
used?” I asked with irritation.
“You see that flat rock, Friend,
with the hole beyond, which is the mouth of a cave
that appeared only in the great storm that brought
you to our land? They are used to convey offerings
which are laid upon the rock. Beyond it no man
may go, and since the beginning no man has ever gone.”
“Offerings to whom?”
“To the Oromatuas, the spirits of the great
dead who live there.”
“Oromatuas? Oro! It
is always something to do with Oro. Who and what
“Oro is a god, Friend, though
it is true that the priests say that above him there
is a greater god called Degai, the Creator, the Fate
who made all things and directs all things.”
“Very well, but why do you suppose
that Oro, the servant of Degai, lives in that mountain?
I thought that he lived in a grove yonder where your
priests, as I am told, have an image of him.”
“I do not know, Friend-from-the-Sea,
but so it has been held from the beginning. The
image in the grove is only visited by his spirit from
time to time. Now, I pray you, come back and before
the priests discover that you have been here, and
forget that there are any canoes upon this lake.”
So, thinking it wisest, I turned the
matter with a laugh and walked away with him to the
village. On our road I tried to extract some more
information but without success. He did not know
who built the ruin upon the mountain, or who destroyed
it. He did not know how the terraces came there.
All he knew was that during the convulsion of Nature
which resulted in the tidal wave that had thrown our
ship upon the island, the mountain had been seen to
quiver like a tree in the wind as though within it
great forces were at work. Then it was observed
to have risen a good many more feet above the surface
of the lake, as might be noted by the water mark upon
the shore, and then also the mouth of the cave had
appeared. The priests said that all this was because
the Oromatuas who dwelt there were stirring, which
portended great things. Indeed great things had
happened for had we not arrived in their
I thanked him for what he had told
me, and, as there was nothing more to be learned,
dropped the subject which was never mentioned between
us again, at least not for a long while. But
in my heart I determined that I would reach that mountain
even though to do so I must risk my life. Something
seemed to call me to the place; it was as though I
were being drawn by a magnet.
As it happened, before so very long
I did go to the mountain, not of my own will but because
I was obliged. It came about thus. One night
I asked Bastin how he was getting on with his missionary
work. He replied: Very well indeed, but
there was one great obstacle in his path, the idol
in the Grove. Were it not for this accursed image
he believed that the whole island would become Christian.
I asked him to be more plain. He explained that
all his work was thwarted by this idol, since his
converts declared that they did not dare to be baptised
while it sat there in the Grove. If they did,
the spirit that was in it would bewitch them and perhaps
steal out at night and murder them.
“The spirit being our friends
the sorcerers,” I suggested.
“That’s it, Arbuthnot.
Do you know, I believe those devilish men sometimes
offer human sacrifices to this satanic fetish, when
there is a drought or anything of that sort.”
“I can quite believe it,”
I answered, “but as they will scarcely remove
their god and with it their own livelihood and authority,
I am afraid that as we don’t want to be sacrificed,
there is nothing to be done.”
At this moment I was called away.
As I went I heard Bastin muttering something about
martyrs, but paid no attention. Little did I guess
what was going on in his pious but obstinate mind.
In effect it was this that if no one else
would remove that idol he was quite ready to do it
However, he was very cunning over
that business, almost Jesuitical indeed. Not
one word did he breathe of his dark plans to me, and
still less to Bickley. He just went on with his
teaching, lamenting from time to time the stumbling-block
of the idol and expressing wonder as to how it might
be circumvented by a change in the hearts of the islanders,
or otherwise. Sad as it is to record, in fact,
dear old Bastin went as near to telling a fib in connection
with this matter as I suppose he had ever done in
his life. It happened thus. One day Bickley’s
sharp eye caught sight of Bastin walking about with
what looked like a bottle of whisky in his pocket.
“Hallo, old fellow,” he
said, “has the self-denying ordinance broken
down? I didn’t know that you took pegs on
the sly,” and he pointed to the bottle.
“If you are insinuating, Bickley,
that I absorb spirits surreptitiously, you are more
mistaken than usual, which is saying a good deal.
This bottle contains, not Scotch whisky but paraffin,
although I admit that its label may have misled you,
unintentionally, so far as I am concerned.”
“What are you going to do with
the paraffin?” asked Bickley.
Bastin coloured through his tan and replied awkwardly:
“Paraffin is very good to keep
away mosquitoes if one can stand the smell of it upon
one’s skin. Not that I have brought it here
with that sole object. The truth is that I am
anxious to experiment with a lamp of my own design
made um of native wood,”
and he departed in a hurry.
“When next old Bastin wants
to tell a lie,” commented Bickley, “he
should make up his mind as to what it is to be, and
stick to it. I wonder what he is after with that
paraffin? Not going to dose any of my patients
with it, I hope. He was arguing the other day
that it is a great remedy taken internally, being
quite unaware that the lamp variety is not used for
“Perhaps he means to swallow
some himself, just to show that he is right,”
“The stomach-pump is at hand,”
said Bickley, and the matter dropped.
Next morning I got up before it was
light. Having some elementary knowledge of the
main facts of astronomy, which remained with me from
boyhood when I had attended lectures on the subject,
which I had tried to refresh by help of an encyclopedia
I had brought from the ship, I wished to attempt to
obtain an idea of our position by help of the stars.
In this endeavour, I may say, I failed absolutely,
as I did not know how to take a stellar or any other
On my way out of our native house
I observed, by the lantern I carried, that the compartment
of it occupied by Bastin was empty, and wondered whither
he had gone at that hour. On arriving at my observation-post,
a rocky eminence on open ground, where, with Tommy
at my side, I took my seat with a telescope, I was
astonished to see or rather to hear a great number
of the natives walking past the base of the mound towards
the bush. Then I remembered that some one, Marama,
I think, had informed me that there was to be a great
sacrifice to Oro at dawn on that day. After this
I thought no more of the matter but occupied myself
in a futile study of the heavenly bodies. At
length the dawn broke and put a period to my labours.
Glancing round me before I descended
from the little hill, I saw a flame of light appear
suddenly about half a mile or more away among those
trees which I knew concealed the image of Oro.
On this personally I had never had the curiosity to
look, as I knew that it was only a hideous idol stuck
over with feathers and other bedizenments. The
flame shot suddenly straight into the still air and
was followed a few seconds later by the sound of a
dull explosion, after which it went out. Also
it was followed by something else a scream
of rage from an infuriated mob.
At the foot of the hill I stopped
to wonder what these sounds might mean. Then
of a sudden appeared Bickley, who had been attending
some urgent case, and asked me who was exploding gunpowder.
I told him that I had no idea.
“Then I have,” he answered.
“It is that ass Bastin up to some game.
Now I guess why he wanted that paraffin. Listen
to the row. What are they after?”
“Sacrificing Bastin, perhaps,”
I replied, half in jest. “Have you your
He nodded. We always wore our
pistols if we went out during the dark hours.
“Then perhaps we had better go to see.”
We started, and had not covered a
hundred yards before a girl, whom I recognised as
one of Bastin’s converts, came flying towards
us and screaming out, “Help! Help!
They kill the Bellower with fire! They cook him
like a pig!”
“Just what I expected,” said Bickley.
Then we ran hard, as evidently there
was no time to lose. While we went I extracted
from the terrified girl, whom we forced to show us
the way, that as the sacrifice was about to be offered
Bastin had appeared, and, “making fire,”
applied it to the god Oro, who instantly burst into
flame. Then he ran back, calling out that the
devil was dead. As he did so there was a loud
explosion and Oro flew into pieces. His burning
head went a long way into the air and, falling on to
one of the priests, killed him. Thereon the other
priests and the people seized the Bellower and made
him fast. Now they were engaged in heating an
oven in which to put him to cook. When it was
ready they would eat him in honour of Oro.
“And serve him right too!”
gasped Bickley, who, being stout, was not a good runner.
“Why can’t he leave other people’s
gods alone instead of blowing them up with gunpowder?”
“Don’t know,” I
answered. “Hope we shall get there in time!”
“To be cooked and eaten with
Bastin!” wheezed Bickley, after which his breath
As it chanced we did, for these stone
ovens take a long time to heat. There by the
edge of his fiery grave with his hands and legs bound
in palm-fibre shackles, stood Bastin, quite unmoved,
smiling indeed, in a sort of seraphic way which irritated
us both extremely. Round him danced the infuriated
priests of Oro, and round them, shrieking and howling
with rage, was most of the population of Orofena.
We rushed up so suddenly that none tried to stop us,
and took our stand on either side of him, producing
our pistols as we did so.
“Thank you for coming,”
said Bastin in the silence which followed; “though
I don’t think it is the least use. I cannot
recall that any of the early martyrs were ever roasted
and eaten, though, of course, throwing them into boiling
oil or water was fairly common. I take it that
the rite is sacrificial and even in a low sense, sacramental,
not merely one of common cannibalism.”
I stared at him, and Bickley gasped out:
“If you are to be eaten, what does it matter
why you are eaten?”
“Oh!” replied Bastin;
“there is all the difference in the world, though
it is one that I cannot expect you to appreciate.
And now please be quiet as I wish to say my prayers.
I imagine that those stones will be hot enough to
do their office within twenty minutes or so, which
is not very long.”
At that moment Marama appeared, evidently
in a state of great perturbation. With him were
some of the priests or sorcerers who were dancing
about as I imagine the priests of Baal must have done,
and filled with fury. They rolled their eyes,
they stuck out their tongues, they uttered weird cries
and shook their wooden knives at the placid Bastin.
“What is the matter?” I asked sternly
of the chief.
The Bellower there, when the sacrifice was about to
be offered to Oro at the dawn, rushed forward, and
having thrust something between the legs of the image
of the god, poured yellow water over it, and with
fire caused it to burst into fierce flame. Then
he ran away and mocked the god who presently, with
a loud report, flew into pieces and killed that man.
Therefore the Bellower must be sacrificed.”
“What to?” I asked.
“The image has gone and the piece of it that
ascended fell not upon the Bellower, as would have
happened if the god had been angry with him, but on
one of its own priests, whom it killed. Therefore,
having been sacrificed by the god itself, he it is
that should be eaten, not the Bellower, who merely
did what his Spirit bade him.”
This ingenious argument seemed to
produce some effect upon Marama, but to the priests
it did not at all appeal.
“Eat them all!” these
cried. “They are the enemies of Oro and
have worked sacrilege!”
Moreover, to judge from their demeanour,
the bulk of the people seemed to agree with them.
Things began to look very ugly. The priests rushed
forward, threatening us with their wooden weapons,
and one of them even aimed a blow at Bickley, which
only missed him by an inch or two.
“Look here, my friend,”
called the doctor whose temper was rising, “you
name me the Great Priest or Great Healer, do you not?
Well, be careful, lest I should show you that I can
kill as well as heal!”
Not in the least intimidated by this
threat the man, a great bedizened fellow who literally
was foaming at the mouth with rage, rushed forward
again, his club raised, apparently with the object
of dashing out Bickley’s brains.
Suddenly Bickley lifted his revolver
and fired. The man, shot through the heart, sprang
into the air and fell upon his face stone
dead. There was consternation, for these people
had never seen us shoot anything before, and were
quite unacquainted with the properties of firearms,
which they supposed to be merely instruments for making
a noise. They stared, they gasped in fear and
astonishment, and then they fled, pursued by Tommy,
barking, leaving us alone with the two dead men.
“It was time to teach them a
lesson,” said Bickley as he replaced the empty
cartridge, and, seizing the dead man, rolled him into
the burning pit.
“Yes,” I answered; “but
presently, when they have got over their fright, they
will come back to teach us one.”
Bastin said nothing; he seemed too
dazed at the turn events had taken.
“What do you suggest?” asked Bickley.
“Flight,” I answered.
“Where to the ship? We might
“No; that is what they expect.
Look! They are cutting off our road there.
To the island in the lake where they dare not follow
us, for it is holy ground.”
“How are we going to live on the island?”
“I don’t know,”
I replied; “but I am quite certain that if we
stay here we shall die.”
“Very well,” he said; “let us try
While we were speaking I was cutting
Bastin’s bonds. “Thank you,”
he said. “It is a great relief to stretch
one’s arms after they have been compressed with
cords. But at the same time, I do not know that
I am really grateful. The martyr’s crown
was hanging above me, so to speak, and now it has
vanished into the pit, like that man whom Bickley
“Look here,” exclaimed
the exasperated Bickley, “if you say much more,
Bastin, I’ll chuck you into the pit too, to look
for your martyr’s crown, for I think you have
done enough mischief for one morning.”
“If you are trying to shift
the responsibility for that unfortunate man’s
destruction on to me ”
“Oh! shut it and trot,”
broke in Bickley. “Those infernal savages
are coming with your blessed converts leading the
So we “trotted” at no
mean pace. As we passed it, Bastin stooped down
and picked up the head of the image of Oro, much as
Atalanta in Academy pictures is represented as
doing to the apples, and bore it away in triumph.
“I know it is scorched,”
he ejaculated at intervals, “but they might
trim it up and stick it on to a new body as the original
false god. Now they can’t, for there’s
As a matter of fact, we were never
in any real danger, for our pursuit was very half-hearted
indeed. To begin with, now that their first rage
was over, the Orofenans who were fond of us had no
particular wish to do us to death, while the ardour
of their sorcerers, who wished this very much, had
been greatly cooled by the mysterious annihilation
of their idol and the violent deaths of two of their
companions, which they thought might be reduplicated
in their own persons. So it came about that the
chase, if noisy, was neither close nor eager.
We reached the edge of the lake where
was the boat-house of which I have spoken already,
travelling at little more than a walk. Here we
made Bastin unfasten the better of the two canoes that
by good luck was almost filled with offerings, which
doubtless, according to custom, must be made upon
the day of this feast to Oro, while we watched against
surprise at the boat-house door. When he was ready
we slipped in and took our seats, Tommy jumping in
after us, and pushed the canoe, now very heavily laden,
out into the lake.
Here, at a distance of about forty
paces, which we judged to be beyond wooden spear-throw,
we rested upon our paddles to see what would happen.
All the crowd of islanders had rushed to the lake edge
where they stood staring at us stupidly. Bastin,
thinking the occasion opportune, lifted the hideous
head of the idol which he had carefully washed, and
began to preach on the downfall of “the god
of the Grove.”
This action of his appeared to awake
memories or forebodings in the minds of his congregation.
Perhaps some ancient prophecy was concerned I
do not know. At any rate, one of the priests shouted
something, whereon everybody began to talk at once.
Then, stooping down, they threw water from the lake
over themselves and rubbed its sand and mud into their
hair, all the while making génuflexions toward
the mountain in the middle, after which they turned
“Don’t you think we had
better go back?” asked Bastin. “Evidently
my words have touched them and their minds are melting
beneath the light of Truth.”
“Oh! by all means,” replied
Bickley with sarcasm; “for then their spears
will touch us, and our bodies will soon be melting
above the fires of that pit.”
“Perhaps you are right,”
said Bastin; “at least, I admit that you have
made matters very difficult by your unjustifiable homicide
of that priest who I do not think meant to injure
you seriously, and really was not at all a bad fellow,
though opinionated in some ways. Also, I do not
suppose that anybody is expected, as it were, to run
his head into the martyr’s crown. When
it settles there of itself it is another matter.”
“Like a butterfly!” exclaimed the enraged
“Yes, if you like to put it
that way, though the simile seems a very poor one;
like a sunbeam would be better.”
Here Bickley gave way with his paddle
so vigorously that the canoe was as nearly as possible
upset into the lake.
In due course we reached the flat
Rock of Offerings, which proved to be quite as wide
as a double croquet lawn and much longer.
“What are those?” I asked,
pointing to certain knobs on the edge of the rock
at a spot where a curved projecting point made a little
Bickley examined them, and answered:
“I should say that they are
the remains of stone mooring-posts worn down by many
thousands of years of weather. Yes, look, there
is the cut of the cables upon the base of that one,
and very big cables they must have been.”
We stared at one another that
is, Bickley and I did, for Bastin was still engaged
in contemplating the blackened head of the god which
he had overthrown.