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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cruise Of The Mary Rose - Chapter 18. A Hazardous Exploit
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The Cruise Of The Mary Rose - Chapter 18. A Hazardous Exploit Post by :65587 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :806

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The Cruise Of The Mary Rose - Chapter 18. A Hazardous Exploit

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN. A HAZARDOUS EXPLOIT

Mr Bent had been waiting for my recovery to restore Alea to her father, and to revisit the newly-established Christian community in her native island. It was important to lose no time in doing this. Mary Bent would have accompanied us; but as her father proposed being absent only a short time, and as the inconveniences of voyaging in a native canoe were very great, he wished her to remain at home. She was, however, not alone; for the widow of a missionary resided with her, and shared her onerous duties in instructing the native girls, an occupation in which both ladies took the greatest delight. All the inhabitants of the island now, it must be understood, professed Christianity, and might justly be called thoroughly civilised. Many also were true and sincere believers; so that these two English ladies, left alone on a small island of the Pacific, felt as secure as they would have done in the centre of civilised England.

As we drew near her father's island, Alea showed considerable trepidation and anxiety as to the way in which she would be received. She could not persuade herself that one from whom she had fled so short a time before, and left a fierce, ignorant heathen, would be willing to forgive her, and treat her with kindness. Might he not also, after all, compel her to become the wife of the cannibal chief to whom she had been betrothed? That was the most dreadful thought. Mr Bent used every possible argument to calm her apprehensions. Although the poor girl had felt the influence of grace in her own soul, she scarcely as yet comprehended its power to change the heart of men. I had entertained a sincere interest in the fate of the young princess from the day we had found her and her perishing companions on board the canoe. I was now able to exchange a few words with her, and there was one subject on which she was never tired of dwelling,--the praise of Mary Bent,--in which I could always join.

Believing that my future lot would be cast among the people of these islands, I had begun seriously to study their language, and I took every opportunity of practising myself in speaking it. We had two native teachers on board, who were to be left among the new converts, and all day long I was talking to them, so that I found myself making rapid progress in their somewhat difficult language.

With a fair wind, the missionary flag flying from the mast-head, we entered the harbour. The shore was crowded, and more and more people came rushing down from all quarters. It was evident that they would not receive us with indifference. Mr Bent had wished to prepare the king for his daughter's return; but she was recognised before we reached the beach, and several people hurried off to inform her father of her arrival. As the vessel's keel touched the strand we saw the people separating on either side, and between them appeared the old chief hurrying down towards us. We instantly landed with Alea, and no sooner did her father reach her than, contrary to all native customs, he folded her in his arms, and kissing her brow, burst into tears?--but they were tears of joy.

"Forgive you, daughter!" he answered to her petition. "It is I have to be thankful that I could not succeed in ruining your soul and body as I proposed. What agony should I now be feeling had I cast you into the power of the child of Satan, to the destruction of your soul and body alike!"

These words made Alea truly happy, and still more so when her father gave her free permission to become the wife of Vihala. During their first interview we stood aside; but now the king came forward, and invited us to come up to his abode. He had evidently some reason for wishing us to come at once. What was our surprise to see on the summit of a hill a building beyond all comparison larger than had ever been erected in the island. The king pointed it out to us with no slight pride. It was a church built entirely by the natives, according to the descriptions given them by Vihala, and the assistance of two or three of them who had seen Christian places of worship during their visits to other islands, though they were at the time themselves heathen. Often have I since seen heathens sitting at the porch of a place of worship, or standing outside the circle of eager listeners; and I have hoped, not without reason, that those men were imbibing some portion of the seed thus scattered, to bring forth fruit in due time. This fact alone is encouraging; indeed there is every encouragement to persevere in missionary labour throughout the Pacific. Where, indeed, is it not to be found, if waited for with patience? The missionary, too, feels that he goes not forth in his own strength,--that a far higher influence is at work, and on that he places his confidence of success.

Nothing could be more satisfactory than the reception afforded us by the chief; but I need not describe the number of hogs and fowls, of bread-fruit, of taro, of the sweet potato, and of numerous other articles of food which were collected to make a feast in honour of our arrival. Mr Bent lost no time in carrying out the object of our visit, in addressing the people, and in installing the teachers in their office. One of our first works was to plan a school-room and houses for the teachers, and to suggest certain alterations in the church to make it more suitable for public worship. It had been arranged that we should return before the next Sabbath; but as it was possible to complete the building by that day, Mr Bent resolved to remain and open it in due form, the natives redoubling their efforts, and working almost day and night to effect that object. I lent a hand, and in sailor fashion erected a pulpit, which, as there was no time to carve, I covered with matting and native cloth, which had a novel, though not unpleasing, appearance.

I did not before speak of my ship: I scarcely expected to find her here on my arrival. Indeed the captain, I understood, thought that all on board the boat had been lost. He had waited, however, day after day, till losing all patience, he had sailed at length the very day we had reached the missionary station. I was most concerned to hear that my boat had not reached the island, though I had a hope that she had fallen in with the _Golden Crown_, and been picked up. If, on the contrary, she had been lost or captured by savages, I felt how grateful I should be for having escaped destruction. Captain Buxton, fully believing that I was lost, had left no message for me, so that I could not tell where the ship had gone, nor what were his intentions.

I must now return to the subject of the church. The opening was one of the most interesting sights I ever beheld. It was crowded at an early hour with people, old and young, all clothed in native cloth, and with their hair cut short,--signs that they had lotued, or become Christians; while numbers were seen approaching from all directions, many of whom, being unable to obtain seats inside, crowded round the doors and windows. Mr Bent's address was most fervent, and, though I could understand but little of it, yet, judging from the way in which the attention of every one present was absorbed, it must have been deeply interesting. Of course but comparatively a small number of those present were really Christians, or understood even the great principles of Christianity. They now required the instruction which man can give, and the work of the Holy Spirit to change their hearts. I may here remark, that I have often heard missionaries accused of over eagerness to increase the number of their flocks; but I should say that Protestant missionaries are never willing to consider those converted who are not really so, and that no ministers of the gospel are more strict in the tests they apply to ascertain the fitness of converts for baptism. Mr Bent well knew the character of his congregation, and addressed them accordingly; but surely it was glorious progress to have some hundreds of persons, not long ago untamed savages, listening attentively to the truths of the gospel. No work of man could thus have progressed,--no mere civilising influence would have produced such an effect. When the morning service was over, the people assembled on the hill-side and in open spaces in the neighbourhood of the church, and there, while eating the provisions they had brought with them, they eagerly discussed the subject of the discourse they had just heard. The teachers I observed went about among them, now sitting down with one group, now with another, and were thus able to answer questions, to give information, and to correct the erroneous notions which were likely to be entertained. Alea scarcely ever left her father's side, and was continually engaged in imparting to him the instruction which she had received from Mr Bent and Mary; and it was interesting to observe the avidity with which the old man received the truth from the lips of the young girl.

I heard reports, however, that the heathen party, still numerous, were mustering strongly in another part of the island. It had been ascertained also that a canoe manned by heathens had left the island some time back, but where they had gone was not known. These circumstances I thought suspicious, and I feared foreboded evil. The meeting at the service in the afternoon, of the natives professing Christianity, was fully equal to that in the morning, but there were fewer heathens. The service continued with prayer and songs of praise, and an address full of instruction and exhortation from Mr Bent. It was almost concluded, when a heathen chief, an old friend of the king, I found, rushed breathless into the building, announcing that a large fleet of double canoes was approaching the island,--that it was that of the cannibal chief to whom Alea was betrothed, coming undoubtedly with hostile intent.

"How far off are the canoes?" asked the king.

"Some distance as yet," was the answer.

"Then we will pray for protection from One mighty to save," exclaimed the king. "We shall now judge which is the most powerful,--Jehovah, whom we have lately learned to worship, or the false gods whom we have cast away."

None of the people moved from their places. The missionary concluded his discourse, and then offered up an earnest prayer for protection from all dangers, to which every one present repeated a loud Amen. They then moved in an orderly manner out of the church, when the greater number hurried up the hill, whence they could see the approaching canoes. Of these there were some fifteen or twenty of different sizes, but most of them large enough to contain a hundred men at least. They were making for a sandy point some way from the town or settlement, where we concluded the enemy would land. I could see with my glass the warriors dancing, and shaking their spears, and gesticulating violently, in a way intended to insult those they had come to attack, and to strike terror into their hearts. A council of war was now held. It was believed that the enemy would not attempt to make an attack that night, but would wait till the morning; still it was necessary to be prepared. The warriors accordingly armed themselves, and assembled in strong bodies under their different leaders. It was a difficult position for Mr Bent and me. He, however, at once stated that he could not assist our friends except by his advice and prayers, but he told me that I might act as I thought fit. Should I fight, or should I not? There was a sore conflict within me. My inclinations prompted me to fight, but my new-born principles taught me to pray rather than to fight, where not called on positively by duty to do so. In either case, my example might be of service. I prayed (as all men in a difficulty should pray) to be guided aright. I decided to remain with the missionary, and use every means to stay the fight, or to mitigate its horrors should it take place.

"I am glad, my son, that you have so resolved," remarked Mr Bent, when I told him of my determination. "Surely the prayers of a believing man are of more avail than the strong arm of the bravest of warriors. It is a trial of your faith, certainly; but oh, pray that your faith may not waver."

While I had been consulting with Mr Bent, I found that a herald from the enemy had arrived with a demand that the Princess Alea should be forthwith delivered up to his master, and threatening the king and all his adherents with utter destruction if he refused compliance.

"Tell your chief that once I was in the dark as he is. Then I thought it no sin to give him my daughter; now I have light, and see my wickedness and folly. When he has light, he likewise will see as I do. My daughter cannot be his wife." This bold speech seemed to astonish the herald, who, having repeated his threats, took his departure.

Active preparations were now commenced for the defence of the settlement, and such fortifications as the natives use were thrown up on all sides. Slight as they may appear, they are capable of offering a considerable resistance, and on one occasion, in the island of Tongatabu, a brave English naval officer and several of his men lost their lives in an attack on one of them held by a rebel and heathen chief who had set at defiance the authority of King George.

As evening drew on we could see the enemy on the sand-bank, dancing round large fires which they had kindled, the sound of their war-shrieks and shouts, and the blowing of their conch-shells reaching us through the calm night air. Meantime the missionary repaired to the church, which during the night was visited at intervals by the whole Christian population. The king also sat frequently in council with his chiefs. One of the youngest, who had, however, greatly distinguished himself, arose and proposed leading a band of chosen warriors to attack the enemy before they commenced their march in the morning.

"While they are singing and dancing, they will not keep a good watch, and thus we may approach them without being discovered. Jehovah will aid us. It is Satan fights for them. We will prove which is the strongest."

All approved the words of the young chief, and he had no lack of volunteers. About two hundred men were chosen and well armed; they at once set out on their hazardous exploit. They had resolved to conquer and save their brethren or die, and yet, perhaps, there was not one who did not expect to be victorious. I had not seen Alea for some time. While I was with the king, who was surrounded by several of his chiefs, she unexpectedly made her appearance among us. She was weeping bitterly.

"Father," she said, "I am the cause of all the bloodshed which is about to occur. Let my life be sacrificed rather than that of so many of your friends. Give me up to the chief. He can then have no cause to complain. I will never be his wife. I may make my escape or I may die, but the lives of you and your friends will be preserved."

On hearing this noble resolve, the chiefs to a man exclaimed that nothing should induce them to abandon the princess. Prayers from all sides were in the mean time offered up for the success of the band of warriors who had gone forth to attack the enemy. No one, however, slackened in their efforts to fortify the town, and all, from the king, when not engaged in council, down to the slave taken in battle, carried baskets of earth or posts for stockades, during the greater part of the night, to those parts of the fortifications which required strengthening. As the hours drew on we waited anxiously for the result of the expedition. I could not help feeling how critical was our position. I was not anxious, however, on my own account, but I could not help reflecting on the sad condition to which Mary would be reduced should her father and I be cut off, as we might too probably be if the heathens gained the victory. Then came the blessed and consoling thought that God cares for the orphans, especially of those who serve Him; what strength and courage does it give those who rest on His sure promises--a comfort which people of the world can never enjoy.

I went the rounds of the fortifications a short time before dawn, and found all the warriors at their posts. I then rejoined Mr Bent, and was conversing with him, when a loud shout from a distance reached our ears, followed by a confused sound of shrieks and cries mingled with the shouts, which continued without cessation for many minutes. Scouts were sent out to ascertain the cause, but no one returned before day broke. The light then revealed to us the fleet of the enemy shoving off from the land. Some of the canoes had already got away, others were hoisting their sails, while a body of the enemy were defending themselves on the beach, hard pressed by our friends. On seeing this the warriors in the town rushed from their trenches, but before they could reach the scene of action not an enemy remained on their strand, with the exception of three or four slain and some thirty or more taken prisoners. The rest sailed away in hot haste, seized with an unusual, if not an unaccountable panic. As their sails had become mere dots on the horizon, the victors entered the town singing, not as before songs of triumph in honour of their idols, but praises to Jehovah, to whom they ascribed their victory. Mr Bent and I, with the women and children and aged men who had not gone forth to the fight, met them, when the king, in set form, recounted what had occurred. The first band had remained concealed till near daylight, when the enemy appeared to be getting drowsy after all their feasting and dancing. At a signal from their leader they dashed forth on the foe, who, totally unprepared for them, were seized with a sudden panic, and the greater number, leaving even their arms, fled towards their canoes. The few who were killed had refused to receive quarter, and as many as could be seized were taken prisoners. These latter fully expected to be slaughtered immediately, and to be offered up to idols, if not to be eaten. They had been somewhat surprised in the first instance to see that their friends who had been killed in the fight were decently interred where they fell, instead of being dragged ignominiously by the heels to the town. They only concluded that this was one of the new customs of the lotu people, and had no expectation in consequence of escaping the common doom of captives. Several of them were chiefs who had attempted to defend the rear while their countrymen were embarking. They stood with downcast, sullen looks, prepared for torture and death. The king now approached them. "Why, O chiefs, did you come to attack my island and my people?" he asked calmly. "We are now among those who wish to live at peace with all men, to have enmity towards no one. Why did you desire to do us harm?"

"We came against you because our king and master ordered us," answered one of the prisoners, looking up with a fierce scowl of defiance on his countenance. "Our object was to carry off your daughter to become our king's wife; the rest of you we should have killed and eaten."

"And I, O chiefs, let you go free because my King and Master orders me to be merciful, that I may obtain mercy," answered the king. "You, O chiefs and people, are free to return to your own island, but before you go you must learn something of the new religion which we have been taught, that you may go back and speak of it to your people, or wherever you may go."

The astonished captives could scarcely believe their senses, the treatment was so unlike anything those they had known taken in war had experienced. They consulted together and expressed their willingness to accept the offer. They were completely overcome when the king promised them a large canoe and ample provisions for their return. The people having taken some refreshment, assembled at the church, where hearty thanksgivings were offered up for the deliverance they had experienced. The captives attended. I watched their countenances. They seemed lost in amazement. All the sentiments were so new and strange. The reign of the Prince of Peace was spoken of. They soon after came to the missionary desiring that they might be allowed to serve so good a Master. They never seemed tired of receiving instruction in the new doctrine, and I was struck with its wonderful adaptability to unsophisticated man, and its power of satisfying his heart yearnings, from the avidity with which they seized each point as presented to them.

It was now time to return to the mission station. We bade an affectionate farewell to Alea, promising to send her intended husband back to the island as soon as possible. The now liberated captives agreed to embark on the same day. Their chief entreaty was that a missionary or a teacher might be sent them to instruct them in the way of eternal life, that way which, by a wonderful combination of circumstances, they were now anxious to follow. Thus the Almighty works often, and thus He has thought fit in an especial manner to work throughout the Pacific.

The difficulty was to obtain a teacher. Mr Bent had several under training at the station, and he told the captives that if they would accompany us he would endeavour to find one who would return with them to their island. They were delighted with the proposal, and exhibited an extraordinary eagerness to set forth. Their hurry was at the time unaccountable, as they were evidently sincere in their expressions. Anxious to please them, we accordingly had our canoe launched, taking several of them on board, the remainder going in the canoe given by the king. The wind being fair, we had a quick run till more than half way across. Just then, through our glasses, we caught sight of a canoe, which, on discovering us, as it seemed, paddled off at right angles to avoid us--her people evidently mistrusting our character. We instantly altered our course to cut her off, and approached her with our missionary flag flying. No sooner was this discovered than the canoe turned again towards us. She soon drew near, when we recognised the people in her as belonging to the station. By their gestures and countenances we had too much reason to believe that they brought us evil tidings. "Haste! haste! haste!" they exclaimed, leaping on board. "A heathen fleet has arrived at the island, and the chief threatens to attack the station. Even now he may have begun the onslaught, for his fury was great. Haste! haste! haste!"

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