Page 12

"Farewell, O quiet seat! To-morrow in all your valleys the drum of death shall beat."


Dawn as yellow as sulphur leaped on the naked peak, And all the village was stirring, for now was the priest to speak. Forth on his terrace he came, and sat with the chief in talk; His lips were blackened with fever, his cheeks were whiter than chalk; Fever clutched at his hands, fever nodded his head, But, quiet and steady and cruel, his eyes shone ruby-red. In the earliest rays of the sun the chief rose up content; Braves were summoned, and drummers; messengers came and went; Braves ran to their lodges, weapons were snatched from the wall; The commons herded together, and fear was over them all. Festival dresses they wore, but the tongue was dry in their mouth, And the blinking eyes in their faces skirted from north to south.

Now to the sacred enclosure gathered the greatest and least, And from under the shade of the banyan arose the voice of the feast, The frenzied roll of the drum, and a swift, monotonous song. Higher the sun swam up; the trade wind level and strong Awoke in the tops of the palms and rattled the fans aloud, And over the garlanded heads and shining robes of the crowd Tossed the spiders of shadow, scattered the jewels of sun. Forty the tale of the drums, and the forty throbbed like one; A thousand hearts in the crowd, and the even chorus of song, Swift as the feet of a runner, trampled a thousand strong. And the old men leered at the ovens and licked their lips for the food; And the women stared at the lads, and laughed and looked to the wood. As when the sweltering baker, at night, when the city is dead, Alone in the trough of labour treads and fashions the bread; So in the heat, and the reek, and the touch of woman and man, The naked spirit of evil kneaded the hearts of the clan.

Now cold was at many a heart, and shaking in many a seat; For there were the empty baskets, but who was to furnish the meat? For here was the nation assembled, and there were the ovens anigh, And out of a thousand singers nine were numbered to die. Till, of a sudden, a shock, a mace in the air, a yell, And, struck in the edge of the crowd, the first of the victims fell. {2h} Terror and horrible glee divided the shrinking clan, Terror of what was to follow, glee for a diet of man. Frenzy hurried the chaunt, frenzy rattled the drums; The nobles, high on the terrace, greedily mouthed their thumbs; And once and again and again, in the ignorant crowd below, Once and again and again descended the murderous blow. Now smoked the oven, and now, with the cutting lip of a shell, A butcher of ninety winters jointed the bodies well. Unto the carven lodge, silent, in order due, The grandees of the nation one after one withdrew; And a line of laden bearers brought to the terrace foot, On poles across their shoulders, the last reserve of fruit. The victims bled for the nobles in the old appointed way; The fruit was spread for the commons, for all should eat to-day.

And now was the kava brewed, and now the cocoa ran, Now was the hour of the dance for child and woman and man; And mirth was in every heart, and a garland on every head, And all was well with the living and well with the eight who were dead. Only the chiefs and the priest talked and consulted awhile: "To-morrow," they said, and "To-morrow," and nodded and seemed to smile: "Rua the child of dirt, the creature of common clay, Rua must die to-morrow, since Rua is gone to-day."

Out of the groves of the valley, where clear the blackbirds sang. Sheer from the trees of the valley the face of the mountain sprang; Sheer and bare it rose, unscalable barricade, Beaten and blown against by the generous draught of the trade. Dawn on its fluted brow painted rainbow light, Close on its pinnacled crown trembled the stars at night. Here and there in a cleft clustered contorted trees, Or the silver beard of a stream hung and swung in the breeze. High overhead, with a cry, the torrents leaped for the main, And silently sprinkled below in thin perennial rain. Dark in the staring noon, dark was Rua's ravine, Damp and cold was the air, and the face of the cliffs was green. Here, in the rocky pit, accursed already of old, On a stone in the midst of a river, Rua sat and was cold.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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