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|South Sea Tales||Jack London|
The Whale Tooth
|Page 5 of 7||
The grass houses clung to the steep mountain side or overhung the rushing Rewa. On either side towered a mighty precipice. At the best, three hours of sunlight penetrated that narrow gorge. No cocoanuts nor bananas were to be seen, though dense, tropic vegetation overran everything, dripping in airy festoons from the sheer lips of the precipices and running riot in all the crannied ledges. At the far end of the gorge the Rewa leaped eight hundred feet in a single span, while the atmosphere of the rock fortress pulsed to the rhythmic thunder of the fall.
From the Buli's house, John Starhurst saw emerging the Buli and his followers.
"I bring you good tidings," was the missionary's greeting.
"Who has sent you?" the Buli rejoined quietly.
"It is a new name in Viti Levu," the Buli grinned. "Of what islands, villages, or passes may he be chief?"
"He is the chief over all islands, all villages, all passes," John Starhurst answered solemnly. "He is the Lord over heaven and earth, and I am come to bring His word to you."
"Has he sent whale teeth?" was the insolent query.
"No, but more precious than whale teeth is the--"
"It is the custom, between chiefs, to send whale teeth," the Buli interrupted.
"Your chief is either a niggard, or you are a fool, to come empty-handed into the mountains. Behold, a more generous than you is before you."
So saying, he showed the whale tooth he had received from Erirola.
"It is the whale tooth of Ra Vatu," he whispered to Starhurst. "I know it well. Now are we undone."
"A gracious thing," the missionary answered, passing his hand through his long beard and adjusting his glasses. "Ra Vatu has arranged that we should be well received."
But Narau groaned again, and backed away from the heels he had dogged so faithfully.
"Ra Vatu is soon to become Lotu," Starhurst explained, "and I have come bringing the Lotu to you."
"I want none of your Lotu," said the Buli, proudly. "And it is in my mind that you will be clubbed this day."
The Buli nodded to one of his big mountaineers, who stepped forward, swinging a club. Narau bolted into the nearest house, seeking to hide among the woman and mats; but John Starhurst sprang in under the club and threw his arms around his executioner's neck. From this point of vantage he proceeded to argue. He was arguing for his life, and he knew it; but he was neither excited nor afraid.
"It would be an evil thing for you to kill me," he told the man. "I have done you no wrong, nor have I done the Buli wrong."
So well did he cling to the neck of the one man that they dared not strike with their clubs. And he continued to cling and to dispute for his life with those who clamored for his death.
"I am John Starhurst," he went on calmly. "I have labored in Fiji for three years, and I have done it for no profit. I am here among you for good. Why should any man kill me? To kill me will not profit any man."
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