فصل 18-1

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فصل 18-1

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

The Flight

We stood rooted to the earth with thick-coming fears. Then Jack gave a fierce shout, dashed aside two natives who stood in his way, rushed towards the heap, sprang up its side, and seized Avatea in his arms. He leaped down again and placed her back to a large tree. Then, wrenching a war-club from the hand of one of the savages, he whirled it above his head and yelled, his whole face blazing with fury: “Come on, the lot of you, and do your worst!”

The savages gave an answering yell, and started towards him, but Tararo sprang forward and raised his hands above his head. The savages stopped and the chief turned to Jack. “You are very brave-but foolish,” he said. “But I do not forget that once you helped me. I will say that Avatea shall not be harmed for three days. Now go back to your ship.”

“Do as he says,” the missionary whispered to Jack. “Three days are worth having.”

Jack hesitated for a moment, then lowered his club, and threw it to the ground. The missionary stepped forward and whispered a few words to Avatea. She replied by a single glance of her dark eyes, before Tararo took her by the hand and led her away.

We returned to the schooner. As soon as we were in the cabin, the missionary said,

“If you are prepared to give up this ship, the girl may yet be saved.”

“How?” we asked eagerly.

“If you were to raise the anchor,” the missionary said, “you’d have a thousand warriors standing on your deck. They will watch you all the time, so the ship must be left behind. These savages will think that you would not sacrifice it for the sake of a girl, so as long as the ship does not move all will be well. Now, I have told you that there is an island about fifty miles to the south. I suggest that you load a canoe with stores, put Avatea on board, and paddle to the island. I will stay here till they discover that you are gone.”

“And what next then?” Jack asked.

“I do not know. At all events, I have told the girl to meet us at a spot to which I will guide you tonight. No watch will be kept on the girl, for they will think it impossible for her to escape. It will be easy for me to get hold of a canoe, but fifty miles on the open sea will not be an easy voyage to make.”

“There’s no other way,” said Jack, and looked at Peterkin and me. “Do we go?” he asked.

We nodded. It was agreed.

It was close on midnight when we dropped over the side of the schooner and into the canoe which the missionary had sent one of the crew to get. We paddled quietly across the bay. A quarter of an hour brought us to an overhanging cliff. As the canoe grated on the beach a hand was laid upon the bow and a dim form was seen.

“Avatea?” whispered the missionary.

There was a soft murmur in the darkness, and the girl stepped into the canoe.

We sped once more across the still waters of the lagoon and put the missionary on board the schooner again. Then we turned towards the opening in the reef and drove the canoe into the long swell of the ocean.

All that night and the whole of the following day we plied the paddles in turn. Jack had taken the bearing of the island just after we started, and kept a pocket-compass before him as he paddled. Peterkin and I were in the bow, and Avatea worked untiringly in the middle.

At dusk of the next day, Jack threw down his paddle and called a halt.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “It’s time we had a good meal and a sound sleep.”

We hungrily ate the cold roast pig we had brought with us, while the night closed in and all around was calm and dark and silent. And then we slept…

I was awakened by a cry from Peterkin, just as the grey dawn began to glimmer in the east.

“What’s wrong?” said Jack, starting up.

“Look!” gasped Peterkin.

His face was filled with dread and he pointed across the sea. A glance showed me a great war-canoe speeding towards us. With a cry of despair Jack seized his paddle and shouted for us to do the same. We did not need telling. Already our four paddles were glancing in the water, and the canoe went bounding over the glassy sea.

The chase, however, could end only in one way. It was two hours before the war-canoe was close enough for us to hear the cries of the men in it, but then they came on rapidly.

Jack shouted for us to stop paddling. We turned the side of the canoe towards our enemies, and put down the paddles. Jack said nothing, but stood up and lifted his club in an attitude of bold defiance.

The other canoe came on like a war-horse, with the foam curling up from its sharp bow, and the spearheads of the savages gleaming in the sunlight. No one spoke. We could hear the hissing water, and see the fierce faces of the warriors as they came rushing on. I waited for them to turn the head of the canoe. They made no move to do so, and suddenly I realized their intention. I grasped my paddle, stood up, and gave one cry. Next moment the sharp prow of the war-canoe struck us like a thunderbolt and hurled us into the sea.

I’m not sure what happened after that, for I was struck on the head by the canoe in passing, went into the sea, and almost drowned. When I recovered my senses I found myself on my back, bound hand and foot, in the bottom of the large canoe. Peterkin and Jack were beside me.

The voyage back to Mango was one long torment. We were given neither food nor water the whole time and suffered agonies from thirst, for the air was exceptionally hot and it seemed that a storm was building up.

While we were being led ashore, we caught a glimpse of Avatea, who was not bound in any way. Our captors drove us before them towards the hut of Tararo. The chief awaited us with an ugly look on his face. He spoke, his eyes flashing with anger, to the missionary, who stood beside him.

“My friends,” said the missionary quietly, “Tararo says that his debt to you is cancelled. You must die.”

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