Chapter 52 continued
Bara-ourou is not wicked, and I hope to succeed in touching his heart, enlightening his mind, and converting him to Christianity; his example would certainly be followed by the greatest part of his subjects, who are much attached to him. Your presence, and the name of God uttered by you, with the fervour and in the attitude of profound veneration and devotion, may aid this work of charity and love. Have you sufficient self-command to delay, for perhaps a few hours, the meeting with your family? Your wife and children, not expecting you, will not suffer from suspense. If you do not agree to this, I will conduct you to them, and return, I hope in time, to fulfil my duty. I wait your decision to reply to Parabery, who is already sufficiently acquainted with the truth, to desire that his king and his brethren should know it also.”
Such were the words of this true servant of God; but I cannot do justice to the expression of his heavenly countenance. Mr. Willis, for such was his name, was forty-five or fifty years of age, tall and thin; the labours and fatigues of his divine vocation had, more than years, left their traces on his noble figure and countenance; he stooped a little, his open and elevated forehead was slightly wrinkled, and his thin hair was prematurely grey; his clear blue eyes were full of intelligence and kindness, reading your thoughts, and showing you all his own. He usually kept his arms folded over his breast, and was very calm in speaking; but when his extended hand pointed to heaven, the effect was irresistible; one might have thought he saw the very glory he spoke of. His simple words to me seemed a message from God, and it would have been impossible to resist him. It was indeed a sacrifice; but I made it without hesitation. I glanced at my sons, who had their eyes cast down; but I saw Fritz knitting his brows. “I shall stay with you, father,” said I, “happy if I can assist you in fulfilling your sacred duties.”
“And you, young people,” said he, “are you of the same opinion?”
Fritz came forward, and frankly said, “Sir, it was, unfortunately, I who wounded my brother Jack; he has been generous enough to conceal this; you extracted the ball which I discharged into his shoulder; I owe his life to you, and mine is at your disposal; I can refuse you nothing; and, however impatient, I must remain with you.”
“I repeat the same,” said Ernest; “you protected our mother and brothers, and, by God’s permission, you restore them to us. We will all remain with you; you shall fix the time of our meeting, which will not, I trust, be long delayed.”
I signified my approbation, and the missionary gave them his hand, assuring them that their joy on meeting their friends would be greatly increased by the consciousness of this virtuous self-denial.
We soon experienced this. Mr. Willis learned from Parabery, that they were going to fetch their king in our pretty canoe when we saw it pass. The royal habitation was situated on the other side of the promontory, and we soon heard a joyful cry, that they saw the canoe coming. While the natives were engaged in preparing to meet their chief, I entered the pinnace, and descending beneath the deck, I took from the chest what I judged most fitting to present to his majesty. I chose an axe, a saw, a pretty, small, ornamented sabre, which could not do much harm, a packet of nails, and one of glass-beads. I had scarcely put aside these articles, when my sons rushed to me in great excitement.
“Oh! father,” cried they, at once, “look! look! summon all your fortitude; see! there is Francis himself in the canoe; oh! how curiously he is dressed!”
“Two natives took Francis on their shoulders,
and two others took the king in the same way.”
I looked, and saw, at some distance, our canoe ascending the strait; it was decorated with green branches, which the natives, who formed the king’s guard, held in their hand; others were rowing vigorously; and the chief, wearing a red and yellow handkerchief, which had belonged to my wife, as a turban, was seated at the stern, and a pretty, little, blooming, flaxen-haired boy was placed on his right shoulder. With what delight did I recognize my child. He was naked above the waist, and wore a little tunic of woven leaves, which reached to his knees, a necklace and bracelets of shells, and a variety of coloured feathers mingled with his bright curls; one of these fell over his face, and doubtless prevented him from seeing us. The chief seemed much engaged with him, and continually took some ornament from his own dress to decorate him. “It is my child!” said I, in great terror, to Mr. Willis, “my dearest and youngest! They have taken him from his mother. What must be her grief! He is her Benjamin the child of her love. Why have they taken him? Why have they adorned him in this manner? Why have they brought him here?”
“Have no fear,” said the missionary; “they will do him no harm. I promise you they shall restore him, and you shall take him back to his mother. Place yourselves at my side, with these branches in your hands.”
He took some from Parabery, who held a bundle of them, and gave us each one; each of the natives took one also. They were from a tree which had slender, elegant leaves, and rich scarlet flowers species of mimosa; the Indians call it the tree of peace. They carry a branch of it when they have no hostile intentions; in all their assemblies, when war is proclaimed, they make a fire of these branches, and if all are consumed, it is considered an omen of victory.
While Mr. Willis was explaining this to us, the canoe approached. Two natives took Francis on their shoulders, two others took the king in the same way, and advanced gravely towards us. What difficulty I had to restrain myself from snatching my child from his bearers, and embracing him! My sons were equally agitated; Fritz was darting forward, but the missionary restrained him. Francis, somewhat alarmed at his position, had his eyes cast down, and had not yet seen us. When the king was within twenty yards of us, they stopped, and all the natives prostrated themselves before him; we alone remained standing. Then Francis saw us, and uttered a piercing cry, calling out, “Papa! dear brothers!” He struggled to quit the shoulders of his bearers, but they held him too firmly. It was impossible to restrain ourselves longer; we all cried out, and mingled our tears and lamentations. I said to the good missionary, a little too harshly, perhaps, “Ah! if you were a father!”
“I am,” said he, “the father of all this flock, and your children are mine; I am answerable for all. Command your sons to be silent; request the child to be composed, and leave the rest to me.”
I immediately took advantage of the permission to speak. “Dear Francis,” said I, holding out my arms, “we are come to seek you and your mother; after all our dangers, we shall soon meet again, to part no more. But be composed, my child, and do not risk the happiness of that moment by any impatience. Trust in God, and in this good friend that He has given us, and who has restored to me the treasures without which I could not live.” We then waved our hands to him, and he remained still, but wept quietly, murmuring our names: “Papa, Fritz, Ernest, tell me about mamma,” said he, at last, in an inquiring tone.
“She does not know we are so near her,” said I. “How did you leave her?”
“Very much grieved,” said he, “that they brought me away; but they have not done me any harm, they are so kind; and we shall soon all go back to her. Oh! what joy for her and our friends!”
“One word about Jack,” said Fritz; “how does his wound go on?”
“Oh, pretty well,” answered he; “he has no pain now, and Sophia nurses him and amuses him. How little Matilda would weep when the natives carried me off! If you knew, papa, how kind and good she is!”
I had no time to ask who Sophia and Matilda were. They had allowed me to speak to my son to tranquillize him, but the king now commanded silence, and, still elevated on the shoulders of his people, began to harangue the assembly. He was a middle-aged man, with striking features; his thick lips, his hair tinged with red paint, his dark brown face, which, as well as his body, was tattooed with white, gave him a formidable aspect; yet his countenance was not unpleasant, and announced no ferocity. In general, these natives have enormous mouths, with long white teeth; they wear a tunic of reeds or leaves from the waist to the knees. My wife’s handkerchief, which I had recognized at first, was gracefully twisted round the head of the king; his hair was fastened up high, and ornamented with feathers, but he had nearly removed them all to deck my boy. He placed him at his side, and frequently pointed him out during his speech. I was on thorns. As soon as he had concluded, the natives shouted, clapped their hands, and surrounded my child, dancing, and presenting him fruit, flowers, and shells, crying out, Ouraki! a cry in which the king, who was now standing, joined also.
“What does the word Ouraki mean?” said I to the missionary.
“It is the new name of your son,” answered he; “or rather of the son of Bara-ourou, who has just adopted him.”
“Never!” cried I, darting forward. “Boys, let us rescue your brother from these barbarians!” We all three rushed towards Francis, who, weeping, extended his arms to us. The natives attempted to repulse us; but at that moment the missionary pronounced some words in a loud voice; they immediately prostrated themselves on their faces, and we had no difficulty in securing the child. We brought him to our protector, who still remained in the same attitude in which he had spoken, with his eyes and his right hand raised towards heaven. He made a sign for the natives to rise, and afterwards spoke for some time to them. What would I have given to have understood him! But I formed some idea from the effect of his words. He frequently pointed to us, pronouncing the word eroue, and particularly addressed the king, who listened motionless to him. At the conclusion of his speech, Bara-ourou approached, and attempted to take hold of Francis, who threw himself into my arms, where I firmly held him.
“Let him now go,” said Mr. Willis, “and fear nothing.”
I released the child; the king lifted him up, pressed his own nose to his; then, placing him on the ground, took away the feathers and necklace with which he had decked him, and replaced him in my arms, rubbing my nose also, and repeating several words. In my first emotion, I threw myself on my knees, and was imitated by my two sons.
“It is well!” cried the missionary, again raising his eyes and hands. “Thus should you offer thanks to heaven. The king, convinced it is the will of God, restores your child, and wishes to become your friend: he is worthy to be so, for he adores and fears your God. May he soon learn to know and believe all the truths of Christianity! Let us pray together that the time may come when, on these shores, where paternal love has triumphed, I may see a temple rise to the Father of all, the God of peace and love.”
He kneeled down, and the king and all his people followed his example. Without understanding the words of his prayer, I joined in the spirit of it with all my heart and soul.
I then presented my offerings to the king, increasing them considerably. I would willingly have given all my treasures in exchange for him he had restored to me. My sons also gave something to each of the natives, who incessantly cried tayo, tayo. I begged Mr. Willis to tell the king I gave him my canoe, and hoped he would use it to visit us in our island, to which we were returning. He appeared pleased, and wished to accompany us in our pinnace, which he seemed greatly to admire; some of his people followed him on board to row, the rest placed themselves in the canoes. We soon entered the sea again, and, doubling the second point, we came to an arm of the sea much wider, and deep enough for our pinnace, and which conducted us to the object of our dearest hopes.