Ballads

Page 15

Taheia cherished his head, and the aged priest stood by, And gazed with eyes of ruby at Rua's darkening eye. "Taheia, here is the end, I die a death for a man. I have given the life of my soul to save an unsavable clan. See them, the drooping of hams! behold me the blinking crew: Fifty spears they cast, and one of fifty true! And you, O priest, the foreteller, foretell for yourself if you can, Foretell the hour of the day when the Vais shall burst on your clan! By the head of the tapu cleft, with death and fire in their hand, Thick and silent like ants, the warriors swarm in the land."

And they tell that when next the sun had climbed to the noonday skies, It shone on the smoke of feasting in the country of the Vais.

NOTES TO THE FEAST OF FAMINE

In this ballad, I have strung together some of the more striking particularities of the Marquesas. It rests upon no authority; it is in no sense, like "Rahero," a native story; but a patchwork of details of manners and the impressions of a traveller. It may seem strange, when the scene is laid upon these profligate islands, to make the story hinge on love. But love is not less known in the Marquesas than elsewhere; nor is there any cause of suicide more common in the islands.

{2a} "Pit of Popoi." Where the breadfruit was stored for preservation.

{2b} "Ruby-red." The priest's eyes were probably red from the abuse of kava. His beard (ib.) is said to be worth an estate; for the beards of old men are the favourite head adornment of the Marquesans, as the hair of women formed their most costly girdle. The former, among this generally beardless and short-lived people, fetch to-day considerable sums.

{2c} "Tikis." The tiki is an ugly image hewn out of wood or stone.

{2d} "The one-stringed harp." Usually employed for serenades.

{2e} "The sacred cabin of palm." Which, however, no woman could approach. I do not know where women were tattooed; probably in the common house, or in the bush, for a woman was a creature of small account. I must guard the reader against supposing Taheia was at all disfigured; the art of the Marquesan tattooer is extreme; and she would appear to be clothed in a web of lace, inimitably delicate, exquisite in pattern, and of a bluish hue that at once contrasts and harmonises with the warm pigment of the native skin. It would be hard to find a woman more becomingly adorned than "a well-tattooed" Marquesan.

{2f} "The horror of night." The Polynesian fear of ghosts and of the dark has been already referred to. Their life is beleaguered by the dead.

{2g} "The quiet passage of souls." So, I am told, the natives explain the sound of a little wind passing overhead unfelt.

{2h} "The first of the victims fell." Without doubt, this whole scene is untrue to fact. The victims were disposed of privately and some time before. And indeed I am far from claiming the credit of any high degree of accuracy for this ballad. Even in a time of famine, it is probable that Marquesan life went far more gaily than is here represented. But the melancholy of to- day lies on the writer's mind.

TICONDEROGA A LEGEND OF THE WEST HIGHLANDS

TICONDEROGA

This is the tale of the man Who heard a word in the night In the land of the heathery hills, In the days of the feud and the fight. By the sides of the rainy sea, Where never a stranger came, On the awful lips of the dead, He heard the outlandish name. It sang in his sleeping ears, It hummed in his waking head: The name--Ticonderoga, The utterance of the dead.

I. THE SAYING OF THE NAME

On the loch-sides of Appin, When the mist blew from the sea, A Stewart stood with a Cameron: An angry man was he. The blood beat in his ears, The blood ran hot to his head, The mist blew from the sea, And there was the Cameron dead. "O, what have I done to my friend, O, what have I done to mysel', That he should be cold and dead, And I in the danger of all?

Nothing but danger about me, Danger behind and before, Death at wait in the heather In Appin and Mamore, Hate at all of the ferries And death at each of the fords, Camerons priming gunlocks And Camerons sharpening swords."

But this was a man of counsel, This was a man of a score, There dwelt no pawkier Stewart In Appin or Mamore. He looked on the blowing mist, He looked on the awful dead, And there came a smile on his face And there slipped a thought in his head.

Ballads Page 16

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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