After having traversed for some time a desert, sandy plain without meeting a living creature, we arrived at a thick wood, where we lost the traces we had carefully followed. We were obliged to direct our course by chance, keeping no fixed road, but advancing as the interwoven branches permitted us. The wood was alive with the most beautiful birds of brilliant and varied plumage; but, in our anxious and distressed state, we should have been more interested in seeing a native than a bird. We passed at last through these verdant groves, and reached an arid plain extending to the shore. We again discovered numerous footsteps; and, whilst we were observing them, we saw a large canoe pass rapidly, filled with islanders: and this time I thought that, in spite of the distance, I could recognize the canoe we had built, and which they had robbed us of. Fritz wished to swim after them, and was beginning to undress himself, and I only stopped him by declaring that if he did, I must follow him, as I had decided not to be separated from him. I even proposed that we should return to Ernest, as I was of opinion that the natives would stop at the place where we had disembarked, to take away the boat they had left, and we might then, by means of the words Ernest had acquired, learn from them what had become of my wife and children. Fritz agreed to this, though he still persisted that the easiest and quickest mode of return would have been by swimming. We were endeavouring to retrace our road, when, to our great astonishment, we saw, at a few yards’ distance, a man clothed in a long black robe advancing towards us, whom we immediately recognized as a European.
“Either I am greatly deceived,” said I, “o-r this is a missionary, a worthy servant of God, come into these remote regions to make Him known to the wretched idolators.”
We hastened to him. I was not wrong. He was one of those zealous and courageous Christians who devote their energies and their lives to the instruction and eternal salvation of men born in another hemisphere, of another colour, uncivilized, but not less our brothers. I had quitted Europe with the same intention, but Providence had ordered it otherwise; yet I met with joy one of my Christian brethren, and, unable to speak from emotion, I silently embraced him. He spoke to me in English a language I had fortunately learned myself, and taught to my children and his words fell on my soul like the message of the angel to Abraham, commanding him to spare his son.
“You are the person I am seeking,” said he, in a mild and tender tone, “and I thank Heaven that I have met with you. This youth is Fritz, your eldest son, I conclude; but where have you left your second son, Ernest?”
“Reverend man,” cried Fritz, seizing his hands, “you have seen my brother Jack. Perhaps my mother? You know where they are. Oh! are they living?”
“Yes, they are living, and well taken care of,” said the missionary; “come, and I will lead you to them.”
It was, indeed, necessary to lead me; I was so overcome with joy, that I should have fainted, but the good missionary made me inhale some volatile salts which he had about him; and supported by him and my son, I managed to walk. My first words were a thanksgiving to God for his mercy; then I implored my good friend to tell me if I should indeed see my wife and children again. He assured me that an hour’s walk would bring me to them; but I suddenly recollected Ernest, and refused to present myself before the beloved ones while he was still in danger. The missionary smiled, as he told me he expected this delay, and wished to know where we had left Ernest. I recounted to him our arrival in the island, and the purpose for which we had left Ernest; with our intention of returning to him as soon as we saw the canoe pass, hoping to obtain some intelligence from the natives.
“But how could you have made yourselves understood?” said he; “are you acquainted with their language?”
I told him Ernest had studied the vocabulary of the South Sea islanders.
“Doubtless that of Tahiti, or the Friendly Islands,” said he; “but the dialect of these islanders differs much from theirs. I have resided here more than a year, and have studied it, so may be of use to you; let us go. Which way did you come?”
“Through that thick wood,” replied I; “where we wandered a long time; and I fear we shall have some difficulty in finding our way back.”
“You should have taken the precaution to notch the trees as you came,” said our worthy friend; “without that precaution, you were in danger of being lost; but we will find my marks, which will lead us to the brook, and following its course we shall be safe.”
“We saw no brook,” remarked Fritz.
“There is a brook of excellent water, which you have missed in crossing the forest; if you had ascended the course of the stream, you would have reached the hut which contains your dear friends; the brook runs before it.”
Fritz struck his forehead with vexation.
“God orders all for the best,” said I to the good priest; “we might not have met with you; we should have been without Ernest; you might have sought us all day in vain. Ah! good man, it is under your holy auspices that our family ought to meet, in order to increase our happiness. Now please to tell me”
“But first,” interrupted Fritz, “pray tell me how Jack is? He was wounded, and”
“Be composed, young man,” said the calm man of God; “the wound, which he confesses he owes to his own imprudence, will have no evil consequences; the natives had applied some healing herbs to it, but it was necessary to extract a small ball, an operation which I performed yesterday evening. Since then he suffers less; and will be soon well, when his anxiety about you is relieved.”
Fritz embraced the kind missionary, entreating his pardon for his rashness, and adding, “Did my brother talk to you of us, sir?”
“He did,” answered his friend; “but I was acquainted with you before; your mother talked continually of her husband and children. What mingled pain and delight she felt yesterday evening when the natives brought to her dear Jack, wounded! I was fortunately in the hut to comfort her, and assist her beloved boy.”
“And dear Francis,” said I, “how rejoiced he would be to see his brother again!”
“Francis,” said the missionary, smiling, “will be the protector of you all. He is the idol of the natives now; an idolatry permitted by Christianity.”
We proceeded through the wood as we conversed, and at last reached the brook. I had a thousand questions to ask, and was very anxious to know how my wife and Francis had been brought to this island, and how they met with the missionary. The five or six days we had been separated seemed to me five or six months. We walked too quickly for me to get much information. The English minister said little, and referred me to my wife and son for all details. On the subject of his own noble mission he was less reserved.
“Thank God,” said he, “I have already succeeded in giving this people some notions of humanity. They love their black friend, as they call me, and willingly listen to my preaching, and the singing of some hymns. When your little Francis was taken, he had his reed flageolet in his pocket, and his playing and graceful manners have so captivated them that I fear they will with reluctance resign him. The king is anxious to adopt him. But do not alarm yourself, brother; I hope to arrange all happily, with the divine assistance. I have gained some power over them, and I will avail myself of it. A year ago, I could not have answered for the life of the prisoners; now I believe them to be in safety. But how much is there yet to teach these simple children of nature, who listen only to her voice, and yield to every impression! Their first impulse is good, but they are so unsteady that affection may suddenly change to hatred; they are inclined to theft, violent in their anger, yet generous and affectionate. You will see an instance of this in the abode where a woman, more unfortunate than your wife, since she has lost her husband, has found an asylum.”
He was silent, and I did not question him farther on this subject. We were approaching the arm of the sea where we had left our pinnace, and my heart, at ease about the rest, became now anxious solely for Ernest. Sometimes the hills concealed the water from us; Fritz climbed them, anxious to discover his brother, at last I heard him suddenly cry out “Ernest, Ernest….”
He was answered by shouts, or rather howls, amongst which I could not distinguish the voice of my son. Terror seized me.
“These are the islanders,” said I to the missionary; “and these frightful cries….”
“Are cries of joy,” said he, “which will be increased when they see you. This path will conduct us to the shore. Call Fritz; but I do not see him; he will, doubtless, have descended the hill, and joined them. Have no fears; recommend your sons to be prudent. The black friend will speak to his black friends, and they will hear him.”
We proceeded towards the shore, when, at some distance, I perceived my two sons on the deck of the pinnace, which was covered with the islanders, to whom they were distributing the treasures of the chest, at least those we had put apart in the bag; they had not been so imprudent as to open the chest itself, which would soon have been emptied; it remained snugly below the deck, with the powder-barrel. At every new acquisition, the natives uttered cries of joy, repeating moña, moña signifying beautiful. The mirrors were at first received with the most delight, but this soon changed into terror; they evidently conceived there was something magical about them, and flung them all into the sea. The coloured glass beads had then the preference, but the distribution caused many disputes. Those who had not obtained any, wished to deprive the rest of them by force. The clamour and quarrelling were increasing, when the voice of the missionary was heard, and calmed them as if by enchantment. All left the pinnace, and crowded round him; he harangued them in their own language, and pointed me out to them, naming me, me touatane, that is, father, which they repeated in their turn. Some approached me, and rubbed their noses against mine, which, the pastor had informed me, was a mark of respect. In the mean time, Fritz had informed Ernest that his mother and brothers were found, and that the man who accompanied us was a European. Ernest received the intelligence with a calm joy; it was only by the tears in his eyes you could discover how much his heart was affected; he leaped from the pinnace and came to thank the missionary. I had my share of his gratitude too, for coming to seek him, before I had seen the dear lost ones.
We had now to think of joining them. We unanimously decided to proceed by water; in the first place, that we might bring our pinnace as near as possible to my dear Elizabeth, who was still suffering from her fall, her forced voyage, and, above all, from her anxiety; besides, I confess that I felt a little fatigue, and should have reluctantly set out to cross the wood a third time; but, in addition to this, I was assured that it was the promptest mode of reaching our friends, and this alone would have decided me. The pinnace was then loosened, the sail set, and we entered with thankfulness. Dreading the agitation of my wife if she saw us suddenly, I entreated our new friend to precede us, and prepare her. He consented; but, as he was coming on board, he was suddenly stopped by the natives, and one of them addressed him for some time. The missionary listened till he had concluded, with calmness and dignity; then, turning to me, he said
“You must answer for me, brother, the request which Parabery makes: he wishes me, in the name of the whole, to wait a few moments for their chief, to whom they give the title of king. Bara-ourou, as he is called, has assembled them here for a ceremony, at which all his warriors must assist. I have been anxious to attend, fearing it might be a sacrifice to their idols, which I have always strongly opposed, and wishing to seize this occasion to declare to them the one true God.