FROM that time on the Indians’ treatment of us was very different. We were invited to their village for a feast to celebrate the recovery of the lost families. And after we had made a litter from saplings to carry the sick woman in, we all started off down the mountain.
On the way the Indians told Long Arrow something which appeared to be sad news, for on hearing it, his face grew very grave. The Doctor asked him what was wrong. And Long Arrow said he had just been informed that the chief of the tribe, an old man of eighty, had died early that morning.
“That,” Polynesia whispered in my ear, “must have been what they went back to the village for, when the messenger fetched them from the beach.—Remember?”
“What did he die of?” asked the Doctor.
“He died of cold,” said Long Arrow.
Indeed, now that the sun was setting, we were all shivering ourselves.
“This is a serious thing,” said the Doctor to me. “The island is still in the grip of that wretched current flowing southward. We will have to look into this to-morrow. If nothing can be done about it, the Indians had better take to canoes and leave the island. The chance of being wrecked will be better than getting frozen to death in the ice-floes of the Antarctic.”
Presently we came over a saddle in the hills, and looking downward on the far side of the island, we saw the village—a large cluster of grass huts and gaily colored totem-poles close by the edge of the sea.
“How artistic!” said the Doctor—“Delightfully situated. What is the name of the village?”
“Popsipetel,” said Long Arrow. “That is the name also of the tribe. The word signifies in Indian tongue, The Men of The Moving Land. There are two tribes of Indians on the island: the Popsipetels at this end and the Bag-jagderags at the other.”
“Which is the larger of the two peoples?”
“The Bag-jagderags, by far. Their city covers two square leagues. But,” added Long Arrow a slight frown darkening his handsome face, “for me, I would rather have one Popsipetel than a hundred Bag-jagderags.”
The news of the rescue we had made had evidently gone ahead of us. For as we drew nearer to the village we saw crowds of Indians streaming out to greet the friends and relatives whom they had never thought to see again.
These good people, when they too were told how the rescue had been the work of the strange white visitor to their shores, all gathered round the Doctor, shook him by the hands, patted him and hugged him. Then they lifted him up upon their strong shoulders and carried him down the hill into the village.
There the welcome we received was even more wonderful. In spite of the cold air of the coming night, the villagers, who had all been shivering within their houses, threw open their doors and came out in hundreds. I had no idea that the little village could hold so many. They thronged about us, smiling and nodding and waving their hands; and as the details of what we had done were recited by Long Arrow they kept shouting strange singing noises, which we supposed were words of gratitude or praise.
We were next escorted to a brand-new grass house, clean and sweet-smelling within, and informed that it was ours. Six strong Indian boys were told off to be our servants.
On our way through the village we noticed a house, larger than the rest, standing at the end of the main street. Long Arrow pointed to it and told us it was the Chief’s house, but that it was now empty—no new chief having yet been elected to take the place of the old one who had died.
Inside our new home a feast of fish and fruit had been prepared. Most of the more important men of the tribe were already seating themselves at the long dining-table when we got there. Long Arrow invited us to sit down and eat.
This we were glad enough to do, as we were all hungry. But we were both surprised and disappointed when we found that the fish had not been cooked. The Indians did not seem to think this extraordinary in the least, but went ahead gobbling the fish with much relish the way it was, raw.
With many apologies, the Doctor explained to Long Arrow that if they had no objection we would prefer our fish cooked.
Imagine our astonishment when we found that the great Long Arrow, so learned in the natural sciences, did not know what the word cooked meant!
Polynesia who was sitting on the bench between John Dolittle and myself pulled the Doctor by the sleeve.
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong, Doctor,” she whispered as he leant down to listen to her: “these people have no fires! They don’t know how to make a fire. Look outside: It’s almost dark, and there isn’t a light showing in the whole village. This is a fireless people.”