The Coral Island/Chapter 35
To part is the lot of all mankind. The world is a scene of constant leave-taking, and the hands that grasp in cordial greeting to-day are doomed ere long to unite for the last time when the quivering lips pronounce the word “Farewell.” It is a sad thought, but should we on that account exclude it from our minds? May not a lesson worth learning be gathered in the contemplation of it? May it not, perchance, teach us to devote our thoughts more frequently and attentively to that land where we meet but part no more?
How many do we part from in this world with a light good-bye whom we never see again! Often do I think, in my meditations on this subject, that if we realised more fully the shortness of the fleeting intercourse that we have in this world with many of our fellow-men, we would try more earnestly to do them good, to give them a friendly smile, as it were, in passing (for the longest intercourse on earth is little more than a passing word and glance), and show that we have sympathy with them in the short, quick struggle of life by our kindly words and looks and actions.
The time soon drew near when we were to quit the islands of the South Seas; and strange though it may appear, we felt deep regret at parting with the natives of the island of Mango, for after they embraced the Christian faith, they sought, by showing us the utmost kindness, to compensate for the harsh treatment we had experienced at their hands. And we felt a growing affection for the native teachers and the missionary, and especially for Avatea and her husband.
Before leaving we had many long and interesting conversations with the missionary, in one of which he told us that he had been making for the island of Rarotonga when his native-built sloop was blown out of its course, during a violent gale, and driven to this island. At first the natives refused to listen to what he had to say; but after a week’s residence among them, Tararo came to him and said that he wished to become a Christian and would burn his idols. He proved himself to be sincere, for, as we have seen, he persuaded all his people to do likewise. I use the word “persuaded” advisedly, for, like all the other Feejee chiefs, Tararo was a despot, and might have commanded obedience to his wishes; but he entered so readily into the spirit of the new faith that he perceived at once the impropriety of using constraint in the propagation of it. He set the example, therefore; and that example was followed by almost every man of the tribe.
During the short time that we remained at the island repairing our vessel and getting her ready for sea, the natives had commenced building a large and commodious church under the superintendence of the missionary, and several rows of new cottages were marked out; so that the place bid fair to become, in a few months, as prosperous and beautiful as the Christian village at the other end of the island.
After Avatea was married, she and her husband were sent away loaded with presents, chiefly of an edible nature. One of the native teachers went with them, for the purpose of visiting still more distant islands of the sea, and spreading, if possible, the light of the glorious Gospel there.
As the missionary intended to remain for several weeks longer in order to encourage and confirm his new converts, Jack and Peterkin and I held a consultation in the cabin of our schooner—which we found just as we had left her, for everything that had been taken out of her was restored. We now resolved to delay our departure no longer. The desire to see our beloved native land was strong upon us, and we could not wait.
Three natives volunteered to go with us to Tahiti, where we thought it likely that we should be able to procure a sufficient crew of sailors to man our vessel; so we accepted their offer gladly.
It was a bright, clear morning when we hoisted the snow-white sails of the pirate schooner and left the shores of Mango. The missionary and thousands of the natives came down to bid us God-speed and to see us sail away. As the vessel bent before a light, fair wind, we glided quickly over the lagoon under a cloud of canvas.
Just as we passed through the channel in the reef the natives gave us a loud cheer; and as the missionary waved his hat, while he stood on a coral rock with his grey hairs floating in the wind, we heard the single word “Farewell” borne faintly over the sea.
That night, as we sat on the taffrail gazing out upon the wide sea and up into the starry firmament, a thrill of joy, strangely mixed with sadness, passed through our hearts; for we were at length “homeward bound” and were gradually leaving far behind us the beautiful, bright-green coral islands of the Pacific Ocean.