Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/334

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

Whatever may have been the feelings of the spectators, the dreaded tumult was averted, and the people dispersed quietly; indeed the example thus given was followed by many, both on Eimeo (it is now called Moorea) and also on Tahiti, to which two members of the mission—Messrs Scott and Hayward—now again ventured to cross. Great was their joy when they found that several of the natives had renounced idolatry and were earnest worshippers of Christ, having been awakened by some words of King Pomare to an exceeding longing for a better faith and purer life than that of their fathers. Glimmerings of light had also found their way to the Paumotu and other neighbouring isles, and by the close of 1814 there was reason to believe that a total of nearly 600 persons had renounced idol-worship and were feeling their way towards the Light.

Naturally, such a movement was not viewed with satisfaction by the great mass of the people. Everywhere the Christians were persecuted by their heathen neighbours, who burnt their houses, destroyed their gardens, spoiled their goods, and even hunted them down, that they might offer them in sacrifice to the insulted gods. At all times it was customary to tell off certain families or tribes, from which the appointed victim-hunters were to select fit subjects for sacrifice; and so numerous were those thus eligible, that on some isles about one-third of the population lived in terror for their lives, not knowing at what moment their doom might be sealed. In many cases whole families forsook their homes secretly, and started in their frail canoe to seek a new home on some unknown isle, preferring to risk the dangers of the sea, and the chance of being eaten by strangers, to the certainty that sooner or later their turn must come to be offered in sacrifice to their cruel gods.

How this terrible doom first came to be attached to any family I cannot say, but, once decided, there was no escape. From generation to generation the black shadow hung, like the sword of Damocles, over each member, from the grey grandfather to the mere stripling. As he went about his daily work, chatting with his most trusted neighbours, one of the latter might open his hand and reveal the small sacred stone which was his death-warrant,