|Chapter I.||Under the Artu Tree|
|Chapter II.||Half Child-Half Savage|
|Chapter III.||The Demon of the Reef|
|Chapter IV.||What Beauty Concealed|
|Chapter V.||The Sound of a Drum|
|Chapter VI.||Sails Upon the Sea|
|Chapter VII.||The Schooner|
|Chapter VIII.||Love Steps In|
|Chapter IX.||The Sleep of Paradise|
|Chapter X.||An Island Honeymoon|
|Chapter XI.||The Vanishing of Emmeline|
|Chapter XII.||The Vanishing of Emmeline (continued)|
|Chapter XIII.||The Newcomer|
|Chapter XV.||The Lagoon of Fire|
|Chapter XVI.||The Cyclone|
|Chapter XVII.||The Stricken Woods|
|Chapter XVIII.||A Fallen Idol|
|Chapter XIX.||The Expedition|
|Chapter XX.||The Keeper of the Lagoon|
|Chapter XXI.||The Hand of the Sea|
|Chapter I.||Mad Lestrange|
|Chapter II.||The Secret of the Azure|
|Chapter III.||Captain Fountain|
|Chapter IV.||Due South|
The breadfruit tree was barren of fruit, as these trees sometimes are, whole groves of them ceasing to bear for some mysterious reason only known to Nature. It was green now, but when suffering its yearly change the great scalloped leaves would take all imaginable tinges of gold and bronze and amber. Beyond the artu was a little clearing, where the chapparel had been carefully removed and taro roots planted.
Stepping from the house doorway on to the sward you might have fancied yourself, except for the tropical nature of the foliage, in some English park.
Looking to the right, the eye became lost in the woods, where all tints of green were tinging the foliage, and the bushes of the wild cocoa-nut burned scarlet as hawberries.
The house had a doorway, but no door. It might have been said to have a double roof, for the breadfruit foliage above gave good shelter during the rains. Inside it was bare enough. Dried, sweet- smelling ferns covered the floor. Two sails, rolled up, lay on either side of the doorway. There was a rude shelf attached to one of the walls, and on the shelf some bowls made of cocoa-nut shell. The people to whom the place belonged evidently did not trouble it much with their presence, using it only at night, and as a refuge from the dew.
Sitting on the grass by the doorway, sheltered by the breadfruit shade, yet with the hot rays of the afternoon sun just touching her naked feet, was a girl. A girl of fifteen or sixteen, naked, except for a kilt of gaily-striped material reaching from her waist to her knees. Her long black hair was drawn back from the forehead, and tied behind with a loop of the elastic vine. A scarlet blossom was stuck behind her right ear, after the fashion of a clerk's pen. Her face was beautiful, powdered with tiny freckles; especially under the eyes, which were of a deep, tranquil blue- grey. She half sat, half lay on her left side; whilst before her, quite close, strutted up and down on the grass, a bird, with blue plumage, coral-red beak, and bright, watchful eyes.
The girl was Emmeline Lestrange. Just by her elbow stood a little bowl made from half a cocoa-nut, and filled with some white substance with which she was feeding the bird. Dick had found it in the woods two years ago, quite small, deserted by its mother, and starving. They had fed it and tamed it, and it was now one of the family, roosting on the roof at night, and appearing regularly at meal times.
All at once she held out her hand; the bird flew into the air, lit on her forefinger and balanced itself, sinking its head between its shoulders, and uttering the sound which formed its entire vocabulary and one means of vocal expression -- a sound from which it had derived its name.
"Koko," said Emmeline, "where is Dick?"
The bird turned his head about, as if he were searching for his master; and the girl lay back lazily on the grass, laughing, and holding him up poised on her finger, as if he were some enamelled jewel she wished to admire at a little distance. They made a pretty picture under the cave-like shadow of the breadfruit leaves; and it was difficult to understand how this young girl, so perfectly formed, so fully developed, and so beautiful, had evolved from plain little Emmeline Lestrange. And the whole thing, as far as the beauty of her was concerned, had happened during the last six months.
The children had never returned to the old place. They had kept entirely to the back of the island and the woods -- the lagoon, down to a certain point, and the reef; a wide enough and beautiful enough world, but a hopeless world, as far as help from civilisation was concerned. For, of the few ships that touched at the island in the course of years, how many would explore the lagoon or woods? Perhaps not one.
Occasionally Dick would make an excursion in the dinghy to the old place, but Emmeline refused to accompany him. He went chiefly to obtain bananas; for on the whole island there was but one clump of banana trees -- that near the water source in the wood, where the old green skulls had been discovered, and the little barrel.
She had never quite recovered from the occurrence on the reef. Something had been shown to her, the purport of which she vaguely understood, and it had filled her with horror and a terror of the place where it had occurred. Dick was quite different. He had been frightened enough at first; but the feeling wore away in time.
Dick had built three houses in succession during the five years. He had laid out a patch of taro and another of sweet potatoes. He knew every pool on the reef for two miles either way, and the forms of their inhabitants; and though he did not know the names of the creatures to be found there, he made a profound study of their habits.
He had seen some astonishing things during these five years -- from a fight between a whale and two thrashers conducted outside the reef, lasting an hour, and dyeing the breaking waves with blood, to the poisoning of the fish in the lagoon by fresh water, due to an extraordinarily heavy rainy season.
He knew the woods of the back of the island by heart, and the forms of life that inhabited them, butterflies and moths and birds, lizards, and insects of strange shape; extraordinary orchids -- some filthy-looking, the very image of corruption, some beautiful, and all strange. He found melons and guavas, and breadfruit, the red apple of Tahiti, and the great Brazilian plum, taro in plenty, and a dozen other good things -- but there were no bananas. This made him unhappy at times, for he was human.
Though Emmeline had asked Koko for Dick's whereabouts, it was only a remark made by way of making conversation, for she could hear him in the little cane-brake which lay close by amidst the trees.
In a few minutes he appeared, dragging after him two canes which he had just cut, and wiping the perspiration off his brow with his naked arm. He had an old pair of trousers on -- part of the truck salved long ago from the Shenandoah -- nothing else, and he was well worth looking at and considering, both from a physical and psychological point of view.
Auburn-haired and tall, looking more like seventeen than sixteen, with a restless and daring expression, half a child, half a man, half a civilised being, half a savage, he had both progressed and retrograded during the five years of savage life. He sat down beside Emmeline, flung the canes beside him, tried the edge of the old butcher's knife with which he had cut them, then, taking one of the canes across his knee, he began whittling at it.
"What are you making?" asked Emmeline, releasing the bird, which flew into one of the branches of the artu and rested there, a blue point amidst the dark green.
"Fish-spear," replied Dick.
Without being taciturn, he rarely wasted words. Life was all business for him. He would talk to Emmeline, but always in short sentences; and he had developed the habit of talking to inanimate things, to the fish-spear he was carving, or the bowl he was fashioning from a cocoa-nut.
As for Emmeline, even as a child she had never been talkative. There was something mysterious in her personality, something secretive. Her mind seemed half submerged in twilight. Though she spoke little, and though the subject of their conversations was almost entirely material and relative to their everyday needs, her mind would wander into abstract fields and the land of chimerae and dreams. What she found there no one knew -- least of all, perhaps, herself.
As for Dick, he would sometimes talk and mutter to himself, as if in a reverie; but if you caught the words, you would find that they referred to no abstraction, but to some trifle he had on hand. He seemed entirely bound up in the moment, and to have forgotten the past as completely as though it had never been.
Yet he had his contemplative moods. He would lie with his face over a rock-pool by the hour, watching the strange forms of life to be seen there, or sit in the woods motionless as a stone, watching the birds and the swift-slipping lizards. The birds came so close that he could easily have knocked them over, but he never hurt one or interfered in any way with the wild life of the woods.
The island, the lagoon, and the reef were for him the three volumes of a great picture book, as they were for Emmeline, though in a different manner. The colour and the beauty of it all fed some mysterious want in her soul. Her life was a long reverie, a beautiful vision -- troubled with shadows. Across all the blue and coloured spaces that meant months and years she could still see as in a glass dimly the Northumberland, smoking against the wild background of fog; her uncle's face, Boston -- a vague and dark picture beyond a storm -- and nearer, the tragic form on the reef that still haunted terribly her dreams. But she never spoke of these things to Dick. Just as she kept the secret of what was in her box, and the secret of her trouble whenever she lost it, she kept the secret of her feelings about these things.
Born of these things there remained with her always a vague terror: the terror of losing Dick. Mrs Stannard, her uncle, the dim people she had known in Boston, all had passed away out of her life like a dream and shadows. The other one too, most horribly. What if Dick were taken from her as well?
This haunting trouble had been with her a long time; up to a few months ago it had been mainly personal and selfish -- the dread of being left alone. But lately it had altered and become more acute. Dick had changed in her eyes, and the fear was now for him. Her own personality had suddenly and strangely become merged in his. The idea of life without him was unthinkable, yet the trouble remained, a menace in the blue.
Some days it would be worse than others. To-day, for instance, it was worse than yesterday, as though some danger had crept close to them during the night. Yet the sky and sea were stainless, the sun shone on tree and flower, the west wind brought the tune of the far-away reef like a lullaby. There was nothing to hint of danger or the need of distrust.
At last Dick finished his spear and rose to his feet.
"Where are you going?" asked Emmeline.
"The reef," he replied. "The tide's going out."
"I'll go with you," said she.
He went into the house and stowed the precious knife away. Then he came out, spear in one hand, and half a fathom of liana in the other. The liana was for the purpose of stringing the fish on, should the catch be large. He led the way down the grassy sward to the lagoon where the dinghy lay, close up to the bank, and moored to a post driven into the soft soil. Emmeline got in, and, taking the sculls, he pushed off. The tide was going out.
I have said that the reef just here lay a great way out from the shore. The lagoon was so shallow that at low tide one could have waded almost right across it, were it not for pot-holes here and there -- ten-feet traps -- and great beds of rotten coral, into which one would sink as into brushwood, to say nothing of the nettle coral that stings like a bed of nettles. There were also other dangers. Tropical shallows are full of wild surprises in the way of life and death.
Dick had long ago marked out in his memory the soundings of the lagoon, and it was fortunate that he possessed the special sense of location which is the main stand-by of the hunter and the savage, for, from the disposition of the coral in ribs, the water from the shore edge to the reef ran in lanes. Only two of these lanes gave a clear, fair way from the shore edge to the reef; had you followed the others, even in a boat of such shallow draught as the dinghy, you would have found yourself stranded half-way across, unless, indeed, it were a spring tide.
Half-way across the sound of the surf on the barrier became louder, and the everlasting and monotonous cry of the gulls came on the breeze. It was lonely out here, and, looking back, the shore seemed a great way off. It was lonelier still on the reef.
Dick tied up the boat to a projection of coral, and helped Emmeline to land. The sun was creeping down into the west, the tide was nearly half out, and large pools of water lay glittering like burnished shields in the sunlight. Dick, with his precious spear beside him, sat calmly down on a ledge of coral, and began to divest himself of his one and only garment.
Emmeline turned away her head and contemplated the distant shore, which seemed thrice as far off as it was in reality. When she turned her head again he was racing along the edge of the surf. He and his spear silhouetted against the spindrift and dazzling foam formed a picture savage enough, and well in keeping with the general desolation of the background. She watched him lie down and cling to a piece of coral, whilst the surf rushed round and over him, and then rise and shake himself like a dog, and pursue his gambols, his body all glittering with the wet.
Sometimes a whoop would come on the breeze, mixing with the sound of the surf and the cry of the gulls, and she would see him plunge his spear into a pool, and the next moment the spear would be held aloft with something struggling and glittering at the end of it.
He was quite different out here on the reef to what he was ashore. The surroundings here seemed to develop all that was savage in him, in a startling way; and he would kill, and kill, just for the pleasure of killing, destroying more fish than they could possibly use.
As a matter of fact, nothing could be more slothful or slow, more given up to a life of ease and degeneracy, than the "reef-building polypifer" -- to give him his scientific name. He is the hobo of the animal world, but, unlike the hobo, he does not even tramp for a living. He exists as a sluggish and gelatinous worm; he attracts to himself calcareous elements from the water to make himself a house -- mark you, the sea does the building -- he dies, and he leaves his house behind him -- and a reputation for industry, beside which the reputation of the ant turns pale, and that of the bee becomes of little account.
On a coral reef you are treading on rock that the reef- building polypifers of ages have left behind them as evidences of their idle and apparently useless lives. You might fancy that the reef is formed of dead rock, but it is not: that is where the wonder of the thing comes in -- a coral reef is half alive. If it were not, it would not resist the action of the sea ten years. The live part of the reef is just where the breakers come in and beyond. The gelatinous rock-building polypifers die almost at once, if exposed to the sun or if left uncovered by water.
Sometimes, at very low tide, if you have courage enough to risk being swept away by the breakers, going as far out on the reef as you can, you may catch a glimpse of them in their living state -- great mounds and masses of what seems rock, but which is a honeycomb of coral, whose cells are filled with the living polypifers. Those in the uppermost cells are usually dead, but lower down they are living.
Always dying, always being renewed, devoured by fish, attacked by the sea -- that is the life of a coral reef. It is a thing as living as a cabbage or a tree. Every storm tears a piece off the reef, which the living coral replaces; wounds occur in it which actually granulate and heal as wounds do of the human body.
There is nothing, perhaps, more mysterious in nature than this fact of the existence of a living land: a land that repairs itself, when injured, by vital processes, and resists the eternal attack of the sea by vital force, especially when we think of the extent of some of these lagoon islands or atolls, whose existences are an eternal battle with the waves.
Unlike the island of this story (which is an island surrounded by a barrier reef of coral surrounding a space of sea -- the lagoon), the reef forms the island. The reef may be grown over by trees, or it may be perfectly destitute of important vegetation, or it may be crusted with islets. Some islets may exist within the lagoon, but as often as not it is just a great empty lake floored with sand and coral, peopled with life different to the life of the outside ocean, protected from the waves, and reflecting the sky like a mirror.
When we remember that the atoll is a living thing, an organic whole, as full of life, though not so highly organised, as a tortoise, the meanest imagination must be struck with the immensity of one of the structures.
Vliegen atoll in the Low Archipelago, measured from lagoon edge to lagoon edge, is sixty miles long by twenty miles broad, at its broadest part. In the Marshall Archipelago, Rimsky Korsacoff is fifty-four miles long and twenty miles broad; and Rimsky Korsacoff is a living thing, secreting, excreting, and growing more highly organised than the cocoa-nut trees that grow upon its back, or the blossoms that powder the hotoo trees in its groves.
The story of coral is the story of a world, and the longest chapter in that story concerns itself with coral's infinite variety and form.
Out on the margin of the reef where Dick was spearing fish, you might have seen a peach-blossom-coloured lichen on the rock. This lichen was a form of coral. Coral growing upon coral, and in the pools at the edge of the surf branching corals also of the colour of a peach-bloom.
Within a hundred yards of where Emmeline was sitting, the pools contained corals of all colours, from lake-red to pure white, and the lagoon behind her -- corals of the quaintest and strangest forms.
Dick had speared several fish, and had left them lying on the reef to be picked up later on. Tired of killing, he was now wandering along, examining the various living things he came across.
Huge slugs inhabited the reef, slugs as big as parsnips, and somewhat of the same shape; they were a species of Bech de mer. Globeshaped jelly-fish as big as oranges, great cuttlefish bones flat and shining and white, shark's teeth, spines of echini; sometimes a dead scarus fish, its stomach distended with bits of coral on which it had been feeding; crabs, sea urchins, sea- weeds of strange colour and shape; star-fish, some tiny and of the colour of cayenne pepper, some huge and pale. These and a thousand other things, beautiful or strange, were to be found on the reef.
Dick had laid his spear down, and was exploring a deep bath-like pool. He had waded up to his knees, and was in the act of wading further when he was suddenly seized by the foot. It was just as if his ankle had been suddenly caught in a clove hitch and the rope drawn tight. He screamed out with pain and terror, and suddenly and viciously a whip-lash shot out from the water, lassoed him round the left knee, drew itself taut, and held him.
Here, just as on the hill-top at the other side of the island, you could mark the rhythm of the rollers. "Forever, and forever -- forever, and forever," they seemed to say.
The cry of the gulls came mixed with the spray on the breeze. They haunted the reef like uneasy spirits, always complaining, never at rest; but at sunset their cry seemed farther away and less melancholy, perhaps because just then the whole island world seemed bathed in the spirit of peace.
She turned from the sea prospect and looked backwards over the lagoon to the island. She could make out the broad green glade beside which their little house lay, and a spot of yellow, which was the thatch of the house, just by the artu tree, and nearly hidden by the shadow of the breadfruit. Over woods the fronds of the great cocoa-nut palms showed above every other tree silhouetted against the dim, dark blue of the eastern sky.
Seen by the enchanted light of sunset, the whole picture had an unreal look, more lovely than a dream. At dawn -- and Dick would often start for the reef before dawn, if the tide served -- the picture was as beautiful; more so, perhaps, for over the island, all in shadow, and against the stars, you would see the palm- tops catching fire, and then the light of day coming through the green trees and blue sky, like a spirit, across the blue lagoon, widening and strengthening as it widened across the white foam, out over the sea, spreading like a fan, till, all at once, night was day, and the gulls were crying and the breakers flashing, the dawn wind blowing, and the palm trees bending, as palm trees only know how. Emmeline always imagined herself alone on the island with Dick, but beauty was there, too, and beauty is a great companion.
The girl was contemplating the scene before her. Nature in her friendliest mood seemed to say, "Behold me! Men call me cruel; men have called me deceitful, even treacherous. _I_ -- ah well! my answer is, `Behold me!'"
The girl was contemplating the specious beauty of it all, when on the breeze from seaward came a shout. She turned quickly. There was Dick up to his knees in a rockpool a hundred yards or so away, motionless, his arms upraised, and crying out for help. She sprang to her feet.
There had once been an islet on this part of the reef, a tiny thing, consisting of a few palms and a handful of vegetation, and destroyed, perhaps, in some great storm. I mention this because the existence of this islet once upon a time was the means, indirectly, of saving Dick's life; for where these islets have been or are, "flats" occur on the reef formed of coral conglomerate.
Emmeline in her bare feet could never have reached him in time over rough coral, but, fortunately, this flat and comparatively smooth surface lay between them.
"My spear!" shouted Dick, as she approached.
He seemed at first tangled in brambles; then she thought ropes were tangling round him and tying him to something in the water- -whatever it was, it was most awful, and hideous, and like a nightmare. She ran with the speed of Atalanta to the rock where the spear was resting, all red with the blood of new-slain fish, a foot from the point.
As she approached Dick, spear in hand, she saw, gasping with terror, that the ropes were alive, and that they were flickering and rippling over his back. One of them bound his left arm to his side, but his right arm was free.
"Quick!" he shouted.
In a second the spear was in his free hand, and Emmeline had cast herself down on her knees, and was staring with terrified eyes into the water of the pool from whence the ropes issued. She was, despite her terror, quite prepared to fling herself in and do battle with the thing, whatever it might be.
What she saw was only for a second. In the deep water of the pool, gazing up and forward and straight at Dick, she saw a face, lugubrious and awful. The eyes were wide as saucers, stony and steadfast; a large, heavy, parrot-like beak hung before the eyes, and worked and wobbled, and seemed to beckon. But what froze one's heart was the expression of the eyes, so stony and lugubrious, so passionless, so devoid of speculation, yet so fixed of purpose and full of fate.
From away far down he had risen with the rising tide. He had been feeding on crabs, when the tide, betraying him, had gone out, leaving him trapped in the rock-pool. He had slept, perhaps, and awakened to find a being, naked and defenceless, invading his pool. He was quite small, as octopods go, and young, yet he was large and powerful enough to have drowned an ox.
The octopod has only been described once, in stone, by a Japanese artist. The statue is still extant, and it is the most terrible masterpiece of sculpture ever executed by human hands. It represents a man who has been bathing on a low-tide beach, and has been caught. The man is shouting in a delirium of terror, and threatening with his free arm the spectre that has him in its grip. The eyes of the octopod are fixed upon the man -- passionless and lugubrious eyes, but steadfast and fixed.
Another whip-lash shot out of the water in a shower of spray, and seized Dick by the left thigh. At the same instant he drove the point of the spear through the right eye of the monster, deep down through eye and soft gelatinous carcass till the spear-point dirled and splintered against the rock. At the same moment the water of the pool became black as ink, the bands around him relaxed, and he was free.
Emmeline rose up and seized him, sobbing and clinging to him, and kissing him. He clasped her with his left arm round her body, as if to protect her, but it was a mechanical action. He was not thinking of her. Wild with rage, and uttering hoarse cries, he plunged the broken spear again and again into the depths of the pool, seeking utterly to destroy the enemy that had so lately had him in its grip. Then slowly he came to himself, and wiped his forehead, and looked at the broken spear in his hand.
"Beast!" he said. "Did you see its eyes? Did you see its eyes? I wish it had a hundred eyes, and I had a hundred spears to drive into them!"
She was clinging to him, and sobbing and laughing hysterically, and praising him. One might have thought that he had rescued her from death, not she him.
The sun had nearly vanished, and he led her back to where the dinghy was moored, recapturing and putting on his trousers on the road. He picked up the dead fish he had speared; and as he rowed her back across the lagoon, he talked and laughed, recounting the incidents of the fight, taking all the glory of the thing to himself, and seeming quite to ignore the important part she had played in it.
This was not from any callousness or want of gratitude, but simply from the fact that for the last five years he had been the be-all and end-all of their tiny community -- the Imperial master. And he would just as soon have thought of thanking her for handing him the spear as of thanking his right hand for driving it home. She was quite content, seeking neither thanks nor praise. Everything she had came from him: she was his shadow and his slave. He was her sun.
He went over the fight again and again before they lay down to rest, telling her he had done this and that, and what he would do to the next beast of the sort. The reiteration was tiresome enough, or would have been to an outside listener, but to Emmeline it was better than Homer. People's minds do not improve in an intellectual sense when they are isolated from the world, even though they are living the wild and happy lives of savages.
Then Dick lay down in the dried ferns and covered himself with a piece of the striped flannel which they used for blanketing, and he snored, and chattered in his sleep like a dog hunting imaginary game, and Emmeline lay beside him wakeful and thinking. A new terror had come into her life. She had seen death for the second time, but this time active and in being.
It was late afternoon, and the heat had gone out of the day. Emmeline, seated on the grass opposite to him, was holding the end of the line, whilst he got the kinks out of it, when suddenly she raised her head.
There was not a breath of wind; the hush of the far- distant surf came through the blue weather --- the only audible sound except, now and then, a movement and flutter from the bird perched in the branches of the artu. All at once another sound mixed itself with the voice of the surf --- a faint, throbbing sound, like the beating of a distant drum.
"Listen!" said Emmeline.
Dick paused for a moment in his work. All the sounds of the island were familiar: this was something quite strange.
Faint and far away, now rapid, now slow; coming from where, who could say? Sometimes it seemed to come from the sea, sometimes, if the fancy of the listener turned that way, from the woods. As they listened, a sigh came from overhead; the evening breeze had risen and was moving in the leaves of the artu tree. Just as you might wipe a picture off a slate, the breeze banished the sound. Dick went on with his work.
Next morning early he embarked in the dinghy. He took the hook and line with him, and some raw fish for bait. Emmeline helped him to push off, and stood on the bank waving her hand as he rounded the little cape covered with wild cocoa-nut.
These expeditions of Dick's were one of her sorrows. To be left alone was frightful; yet she never complained. She was living in a paradise, but something told her that behind all that sun, all that splendour of blue sea and sky, behind the flowers and the leaves, behind all that specious and simpering appearance of happiness in nature, lurked a frown, and the dragon of mischance.
Dick rowed for about a mile, then he shipped his sculls, and let the dinghy float. The water here was very deep; so deep that, despite its clearness, the bottom was invisible; the sunlight over the reef struck through it diagonally, filling it with sparkles.
The fisherman baited his hook with a piece from the belly of a scarus and lowered it down out of sight, then he belayed the line to a thole pin, and, sitting in the bottom of the boat, hung his head over the side and gazed deep down into the water. Sometimes there was nothing to see but just the deep blue of the water. Then a flight of spangled arrowheads would cross the line of sight and vanish, pursued by a form like a moving bar of gold. Then a great fish would materialise itself and hang in the shadow of the boat motionless as a stone, save for the movement of its gills; next moment with a twist of the tail it would be gone.
Suddenly the dinghy shored over, and might have capsized, only for the fact that Dick was sitting on the opposite side to the side from which the line hung. Then the boat righted; the line slackened, and the surface of the lagoon, a few fathoms away, boiled as if being stirred from below by a great silver stick. He had hooked an albicore. He tied the end of the fishing-line to a scull, undid the line from the thole pin, and flung the scull overboard.
He did all this with wonderful rapidity, while the line was still slack. Next moment the scull was rushing over the surface of the lagoon, now towards the reef, now towards the shore, now flat, now end up. Now it would be jerked under the surface entirely; vanish for a moment, and then reappear. It was a most astonishing thing to watch, for the scull seemed alive --- viciously alive, and imbued with some destructive purpose; as, in fact, it was. The most venomous of living things, and the most intelligent could not have fought the great fish better.
The albicore would make a frantic dash down the lagoon, hoping, perhaps, to find in the open sea a release from his foe. Then, half drowned with the pull of the scull, he would pause, dart from side to side in perplexity, and then make an equally frantic dash up the lagoon, to be checked in the same manner. Seeking the deepest depths, he would sink the scull a few fathoms; and once he sought the air, leaping into the sunlight like a crescent of silver, whilst the splash of him as he fell echoed amidst the trees bordering the lagoon. An hour passed before the great fish showed signs of weakening.
The struggle had taken place up to this close to the shore, but now the scull swam out into the broad sheet of sunlit water, and slowly began to describe large circles rippling up the peaceful blue into flashing wavelets. It was a melancholy sight to watch, for the great fish had made a good fight, and one could see him, through the eye of imagination, beaten, half drowned, dazed, and moving as is the fashion of dazed things in a circle.
Dick, working the remaining oar at the stern of the boat, rowed out and seized the floating scull, bringing it on board. Foot by foot he hauled his catch towards the boat till the long gleaming line of the thing came dimly into view.
The fight had been heard for miles through the lagoon water by all sorts of swimming things. The lord of the place had got sound of it. A dark fin rippled the water; and as Dick, pulling on his line, hauled his catch closer, a monstrous grey shadow stained the depths, and the glittering streak that was the albicore vanished as if engulfed in a cloud. The line came in slack, and Dick hauled in the albicore's head. It had been divided from the body as if with a huge pair of shears. The grey shadow slipped by the boat, and Dick, mad with rage, shouted and shook his fist at it; then, seizing the albicore's head, from which he had taken the hook, he hurled it at the monster in the water.
The great shark, with a movement of the tail that caused the water to swirl and the dinghy to rock, turned upon his back and engulfed the head; then he slowly sank and vanished, just as if he had been dissolved. He had come off best in this their first encounter --- such as it was.
In the last few months she had changed; even her face had changed. A new person had come upon the island, it seemed to him, and taken the place of the Emmeline he had known from earliest childhood. This one looked different. He did not know that she had grown beautiful, he just knew that she looked different; also she had developed new ways that displeased him --- she would go off and bathe by herself, for instance.
Up to six months or so ago he had been quite contented; sleeping and eating, and hunting for food and cooking it, building and rebuilding the house, exploring the woods and the reef. But lately a spirit of restlessness had come upon him; he did not know exactly what he wanted. He had a vague feeling that he wanted to go away from the place where he was; not from the island, but from the place where they had pitched their tent, or rather built their house.
It may have been the spirit of civilisation crying out in him, telling him of all he was missing. Of the cities, and the streets, and the houses, and the businesses, and the striving after gold, the striving after power. It may have been simply the man in him crying out for Love, and not knowing yet that Love was at his elbow.
The dinghy glided along, hugging the shore, past the little glades of fern and the cathedral gloom of the breadfruit; then, rounding a promontory, she opened the view of the break in the reef. A little bit of the white strand was visible, but he was not looking that way --- he was looking towards the reef at a tiny, dark spot, not noticeable unless searched for by the eye. Always when he came on these expeditions, just here, he would hang on his oars and gaze over there, where the gulls were flying and the breakers thundering.
A few years ago the spot filled him with dread as well as curiosity, but from familiarity and the dullness that time casts on everything, the dread had almost vanished, but the curiosity remained: the curiosity that makes a child look on at the slaughter of an animal even though his soul revolts at it. He gazed for a while, then he went on pulling, and the dinghy approached the beach.
Something had happened on the beach. The sand was all trampled, and stained red here and there; in the centre lay the remains of a great fire still smouldering, and just where the water lapped the sand, lay two deep grooves as if two heavy boats had been beached there. A South Sea man would have told from the shape of the grooves, and the little marks of the out-riggers, that two heavy canoes had been beached there. And they had.
The day before, early in the afternoon, two canoes, possibly from that far-away island which cast a stain on the horizon to the - sou'-sou'-west, had entered the lagoon, one in pursuit of the other.
What happened then had better be left veiled. A war drum with a shark-skin head had set the woods throbbing; the victory was celebrated all night, and at dawn the victors manned the two canoes and set sail for the
home, or hell, they had come from. Had you examined the strand you would have found that a line had been drawn across the beach, beyond which there were no footmarks: that meant that the rest of the island was for some reason tabu.
Dick pulled the nose of the boat up a bit on the strand, then he looked around him. He picked up a broken spear that had been cast away or forgotten; it was made of some hard wood and barbed with iron. On the right-hand side of the beach something lay between the cocoa-nut trees. He approached; it was a mass of offal; the entrails of a dozen sheep seemed cast here in one mound, yet there were no sheep on the island, and sheep are not carried as a rule in war canoes.
The sand on the beach was eloquent. The foot pursuing and the foot pursued; the knee of the fallen one, and then the forehead and outspread hands; the heel of the chief who has slain his enemy, beaten the body flat, burst a hole through it, through which he has put his head, and who stands absolutely wearing his enemy as a cloak; the head of the man dragged on his back to be butchered like a sheep --- of these things spoke the sand.
As far as the sand traces could speak, the story of the battle was still being told; the screams and the shouting, the clashing of clubs and spears were gone, yet the ghost of the fight remained.
If the sand could bear such traces, and tell such tales, who shall say that the plastic aether was destitute of the story of the fight and the butchery?
However that may have been, Dick, looking around him, had the shivering sense of having just escaped from danger. Whoever had been, had gone --- he could tell that by the canoe traces. Gone either out to sea, or up the right stretch of the lagoon. It was important to determine this.
He climbed to the hill-top and swept the sea with his eyes. There, away to the south-west, far away on the sea, he could distinguish the brown sails of two canoes. There was something indescribably mournful and lonely in their appearance; they looked like withered leaves --- brown moths blown to sea --- derelicts of autumn. Then, remembering the beach, these things became freighted with the most sinister thoughts for the mind of the gazer. They were hurrying away, having done their work. That they looked lonely and old and mournful, and like withered leaves blown across the sea, only heightened the horror.
Dick had never seen canoes before, but he knew that these things were boats of some sort holding people, and that the people had left all those traces on the beach. How much of the horror of the thing was revealed to his subconscious intelligence, who can say?
He had climbed the boulder, and he now sat down with his knees drawn up, and his hands clasped round them. Whenever he came round to this side of the island, something happened of a fateful or sinister nature. The last time he had nearly lost the dinghy; he had beached the little boat in such a way that she floated off, and the tide was just in the act of stealing her, and sweeping her from the lagoon out to sea, when he returned laden with his bananas, and, rushing into the water up to his waist, saved her. Another time he had fallen out of a tree, and just by a miracle escaped death. Another time a hurricane had broken, lashing the lagoon into snow, and sending the cocoa-nuts bounding and flying like tennis balls across the strand. This time he had just escaped something, he knew not exactly what. It was almost as if Providence were saying to him, "Don't come here."
He watched the brown sails as they dwindled in the wind- blown blue, then he came down from the hill-top and cut his bananas. He cut four large bunches, which caused him to make two journeys to the boat. When the bananas were stowed he pushed off.
For a long time a great curiosity had been pulling at his heart- strings: a curiosity of which he was dimly ashamed. Fear had given it birth, and Fear still clung to it. It was, perhaps, the element of fear and the awful delight of daring the unknown that made him give way to it.
He had rowed, perhaps, a hundred yards when he turned the boat's head and made for the reef. It was more than five years since that day when he rowed across the lagoon, Emmeline sitting in the stern, with her wreath of flowers in her hand. It might have been only yesterday, for everything seemed just the same. The thunderous surf and the flying gulls, the blinding sunlight, and the salt, fresh smell of the sea. The palm tree at the entrance of the lagoon still bent gazing into the water, and round the projection of coral to which he had last moored the boat still lay a fragment of the rope which he had cut in his hurry to escape.
Ships had come into the lagoon, perhaps, during the five years, but no one had noticed anything on the reef, for it was only from the hill-top that a full view of what was there could be seen, and then only by eyes knowing where to look. From the beach there was visible just a speck. It might have been, perhaps, a bit of old wreckage flung there by a wave in some big storm. A piece of old wreckage that had been tossed hither and thither for years, and had at last found a place of rest.
Dick tied the boat up, and stepped on to the reef. It was high tide just as before; the breeze was blowing strongly, and overhead a man-of-war's bird, black as ebony, with a blood-red bill, came sailing, the wind doming out his wings. He circled in the air, and cried out fiercely, as if resenting the presence of the intruder, then he passed away, let himself be blown away, as it were, across the lagoon, wheeled, circled, and passed out to sea.
Dick approached the place he knew, and there lay the little old barrel all warped by the powerful sun; the staves stood apart, and the hooping was rusted and broken, and whatever it had contained in the way of spirit and conviviality had long ago drained away.
Beside the barrel lay a skeleton, round which lay a few rags of cloth. The skull had fallen to one side, and the lower jaw had fallen from the skull; the bones of the hands and feet were still articulated, and the ribs had not fallen in. It was all white and bleached, and the sun shone on it as indifferently as on the coral, this shell and framework that had once been a man. There was nothing dreadful about it, but a whole world of wonder.
To Dick, who had not been broken into the idea of death, who had not learned to associate it with graves and funerals, sorrow, eternity, and hell, the thing spoke as it never could have spoken to you or me.
Looking at it, things linked themselves together in his mind: the skeletons of birds he had found in the woods, the fish he had slain, even trees lying dead and rotten --- even the shells of crabs.
If you had asked him what lay before him, and if he could have expressed the thought in his mind, he would have answered you "change."
All the philosophy in the world could not have told him more than he knew just then about death --- he, who even did not know its name.
He was held spellbound by the marvel and miracle of the thing and the thoughts that suddenly crowded his mind like a host of spectres for whom a door has just been opened.
Just as a child by unanswerable logic knows that a fire which has burned him once will burn him again, or will burn another person, he knew that just as the form before him was, his form would be some day --- and Emmeline's.
Then came the vague question which is born not of the brain, but the heart, and which is the basis of all religions --- where shall I be then? His mind was not of an introspective nature, and the question just strayed across it and was gone. And still the wonder of the thing held him. He was for the first time in his life in a reverie; the corpse that had shocked and terrified him five years ago had cast seeds of thought with its dead fingers upon his mind, the skeleton had brought them to maturity. The full fact of universal death suddenly appeared before him, and he recognised it.
He stood for a long time motionless, and then with a deep sigh turned to the boat and pushed off without once looking back at the reef. He crossed the lagoon and rowed slowly homewards, keeping in the shelter of the tree shadows as much as possible.
Even looking at him from the shore you might have noticed a difference in him. Your savage paddles his canoe, or sculls his boat, alert, glancing about him, at touch with nature at all points; though he be lazy as a cat and sleeps half the day, awake he is all ears and eyes --- a creature reacting to the least external impression.
Dick, as he rowed back, did not look about him: he was thinking or retrospecting. The savage in him had received a check. As he turned the little cape where the wild cocoanut blazed, he looked over his shoulder. A figure was standing on the sward by the edge of the water. It was Emmeline.
Emmeline was seated on the grass; she had a long strip of the striped flannel stuff about her, worn like a scarf, and she had another piece in her hand which she was hemming. The bird was hopping about, pecking at a banana which they had thrown to him; a light breeze made the shadow of the artu leaves dance upon the grass, and the serrated leaves of the breadfruit to patter one on the other with the sound of rain-drops falling upon glass.
"Where did you get it?" asked Emmeline, staring at the piece of the javelin which Dick had flung down almost beside her whilst he went into the house to fetch the knife.
"It was on the beach over there," he replied, taking his seat and examining the two fragments to see how he could splice them together.
Emmeline looked at the pieces, putting them together in her mind. She did not like the look of the thing: so keen and savage, and stained dark a foot and more from the point.
"People had been there," said Dick, putting the two pieces together and examining the fracture critically.
"Over there. This was lying on the sand, and the sand was all trod up."
"Dick," said Emmeline, "who were the people?"
"I don't know; I went up the hill and saw their boats going away --- far away out. This was lying on the sand."
"Dick," said Emmeline, "do you remember the noise yesterday?"
"Yes," said Dick.
"I heard it in the night."
"In the night before the moon went away."
"That was them," said Dick.
"Who were they?"
"I don't know," replied Dick.
"It was in the night, before the moon went away, and it went on and on beating in the trees. I thought I was asleep, and then I knew I was awake; you were asleep, and I pushed you to listen, but you couldn't wake, you were so asleep; then the moon went away, and the noise went on. How did they make the noise?"
"I don't know," replied Dick, "but it was them; and they left this on the sand, and the sand was all trod up, and I saw their boats from the hill, away out far."
"I thought I heard voices," said Emmeline, "but I was not sure."
She fell into meditation, watching her companion at work on the savage and sinister-looking thing in his hands. He was splicing the two pieces together with a strip of the brown cloth-like stuff which is wrapped round the stalks of the cocoa-palm fronds. The thing seemed to have been hurled here out of the blue by some unseen hand.
When he had spliced the pieces, doing so with marvellous dexterity, he took the thing short down near the point, and began thrusting it into the soft earth to clean it; then, with a bit of flannel, he polished it till it shone. He felt a keen delight in it. It was useless as a fish-spear, because it had no barb, but it was a weapon. It was useless as a weapon, because there was no foe on the island to use it against; still, it was a weapon.
When he had finished scrubbing at it, he rose, hitched his old trousers up, tightened the belt of cocoa-cloth which Emmeline had made for him, went into the house and got his fish- spear, and stalked off to the boat, calling out to Emmeline to follow him. They crossed over to the reef, where, as usual, he divested himself of clothing.
It was strange that out here he would go about stark naked, yet on the island he always wore some covering. But not so strange, perhaps, after all.
The sea is a great purifier, both of the mind and the body; before that great sweet spirit people do not think in the same way as they think far inland. What woman would appear in a town or on a country road, or even bathing in a river, as she appears bathing in the sea?
Some instinct made Dick cover himself up on shore, and strip naked on the reef. In a minute he was down by the edge of the surf, javelin in one hand, fish-spear in the other.
Emmeline, by a little pool the bottom of which was covered with branching coral, sat gazing down into its depths, lost in a reverie like that into which we fall when gazing at shapes in the fire. She had sat some time like this when a shout from Dick aroused her. She started to her feet and gazed to where he was pointing. An amazing thing was there.
To the east, just rounding the curve of the reef, and scarcely a quarter of a mile from it, was coming a big topsail schooner; a beautiful sight she was, heeling to the breeze with every sail drawing, and the white foam like a feather at her fore- foot.
Dick, with the javelin in his hand, was standing gazing at her; he had dropped his fishspear, and he stood as motionless as though he were carved out of stone. Emmeline ran to him and stood beside him; neither of them spoke a word as the vessel drew closer.
Everything was visible, so close was she now, from the reef points on the great mainsail, luminous with the sunlight, and white as the wing of a gull, to the rail of the bulwarks. A crowd of men were hanging over the port bulwarks gazing at the island and the figures on the reef. Browned by the sun and sea- breeze, Emmeline's hair blowing on the wind, and the point of Dick's javelin flashing in the sun, they looked an ideal pair of savages, seen from the schooner's deck.
"They are going away," said Emmeline, with a long-drawn breath of relief.
Dick made no reply; he stared at the schooner a moment longer in silence, then, having made sure that she was standing away from the land, he began to run up and down, calling out wildly, and beckoning to the vessel as if to call her back.
A moment later a sound came on the breeze, a faint hail; a flag was run up to the peak and dipped as in derision, and the vessel continued on her course.
As a matter of fact, she had been on the point of putting about. Her captain had for a moment been undecided as to whether the forms on the reef were those of castaways or savages. But the javelin in Dick's hand had turned the scale of his opinion in favour of the theory of savages.
The hawthorn tree never bloomed here, the climate was that of eternal summer, yet the spirit of May came just as she comes to the English countryside or the German forest. The doings in the artu branches greatly interested Emmeline.
The love-making and the nest-building were conducted quite in the usual manner, according to rules laid down by Nature and carried out by men and birds. All sorts of quaint sounds came filtering down through the leaves from the branch where the sapphire-coloured lovers sat side by side, or the fork where the nest was beginning to form: croonings and cluckings, sounds like the flirting of a fan, the sounds of a squabble, followed by the sounds that told of the squabble made up. Sometimes after one of these squabbles a pale blue downy feather or two would come floating earthwards, touch the palmetto leaves of the house- roof and cling there, or be blown on to the grass.
It was some days after the appearance of the schooner, and Dick was making ready to go into the woods and pick guavas. He had all the morning been engaged in making a basket to carry them in. In civilisation he would, judging from his mechanical talent, perhaps have been an engineer, building bridges and ships, instead of palmetto-leaf baskets and cane houses --- who knows if he would have been happier?
The heat of midday had passed, when, with the basket hanging over his shoulder on a piece of cane, he started for the woods, Emmeline following. The place they were going to always filled her with a vague dread; not for a great deal would she have gone there alone. Dick had discovered it in one of his rambles.
They entered the wood and passed a little well, a well without apparent source or outlet and a bottom of fine white sand. How the sand had formed there, it would be impossible to say; but there it was, and around the margin grew ferns redoubling themselves on the surface of the crystal-clear water. They left this to the right and struck into the heart of the wood. The heat of midday still lurked here; the way was clear, for there was a sort of path between the trees, as if, in very ancient days, there had been a road.
Right across this path, half lost in shadow, half sunlit, the lianas hung their ropes. The hotoo tree, with its powdering of delicate blossoms, here stood, showing its lost loveliness to the sun; in the shade the scarlet hibiscus burned like a flame. Artu and breadfruit trees and cocoa-nut bordered the way.
As they proceeded the trees grew denser and the path more obscure. All at once, rounding a sharp turn, the path ended in a valley carpeted with fern. This was the place that always filled Emmeline with an undefined dread. One side of it was all built up in terraces with huge blocks of stone --- blocks of stone so enormous, that the wonder was how the ancient builders had put them in their places.
Trees grew along the terraces, thrusting their roots between the interstices of the blocks. At their base, slightly tilted forward as if with the sinkage of years, stood a great stone figure roughly carved, thirty feet high at least --- mysterious- looking, the very spirit of the place. This figure and the terraces, the valley itself, and the very trees that grew there, inspired Emmeline with deep curiosity and vague fear.
People had been here once; sometimes she could fancy she saw dark shadows moving amidst the trees, and the whisper of the foliage seemed to her to hide voices at times, even as its shadow concealed forms. It was indeed an uncanny place to be alone in even under the broad light of day. All across the Pacific for thousands of miles you find relics of the past, like these scattered through the islands.
These temple places are nearly all the same: great terraces of stone, massive idols, desolation overgrown with foliage. They hint at one religion, and a time when the sea space of the Pacific was a continent, which, sinking slowly through the ages, has left only its higher lands and hill-tops visible in the form of islands. Round these places the woods are thicker than elsewhere, hinting at the presence there, once, of sacred groves. The idols are immense, their faces are vague; the storms and the suns and the rains of the ages have cast over them a veil. The sphinx is understandable and a toy compared to these things, some of which have a stature of fifty feet, whose creation is veiled in absolute mystery --- the gods of a people for ever and for ever lost.
The "stone man" was the name Emmeline had given the idol of the valley; and sometimes at nights, when her thoughts would stray that way, she would picture him standing all alone in the moonlight or starlight staring straight before him.
He seemed for ever listening; unconsciously one fell to listening too, and then the valley seemed steeped in a supernatural silence. He was not good to be alone with.
Emmeline sat down amidst the fears just at his base. When one was close up to him he lost the suggestion of life, and was simply a great stone which cast a shadow in the sun.
Dick threw himself down also to rest. Then he rose up and went off amidst the guava bushes, plucking the fruit and filling his basket. Since he had seen the schooner, the white men on her decks, her great masts and sails, and general appearance of freedom and speed and unknown adventure, he had been more than ordinarily glum and restless. Perhaps he connected her in his mind with the far-away vision of the Northumberland, and the idea of other places and lands, and the yearning for change [that] the idea of them inspired.
He came back with his basket full of the ripe fruit, gave some to the girl and sat down beside her. When she had finished eating them she took the cane that he used for carrying the basket and held it in her hands. She was bending it in the form of a bow when it slipped, flew out and struck her companion a sharp blow on the side of his face.
Almost on the instant he turned and slapped her on the shoulder. She stared at him for a moment in troubled amazement, a sob came in her throat. Then some veil seemed lifted, some wizard's wand stretched out, some mysterious vial broken. As she looked at him like that, he suddenly and fiercely clasped her in his arms. He held her like this for a moment, dazed, stupefied, not knowing what to do with her. Then her lips told him, for they met his in an endless kiss.
She lit the lagoon to its dark, dim heart. She lit the coral brains and sand spaces, and the fish, casting their shadows on the sand and the coral. The keeper of the lagoon rose to greet her, and the fin of him broke her reflection on the mirror-like surface into a thousand glittering ripples. She saw the white staring ribs of the form on the reef. Then, peeping over the trees, she looked down into the valley, where the great idol of stone had kept its solitary vigil for five thousand years, perhaps, or more.
At his base, in his shadow, looking as if under his protection, lay two human beings, naked, clasped in each other's arms, and fast asleep. One could scarcely pity his vigil, had it been marked sometimes through the years by such an incident as this. The thing had been conducted just as the birds conduct their love affairs. An affair absolutely natural, absolutely blameless, and without sin.
It was a marriage according to Nature, without feast or guests, consummated with accidental cynicism under the shadow of a religion a thousand years dead.
So happy in their ignorance were they, that they only knew that suddenly life had changed, that the skies and the sea were bluer, and that they had become in some magical way one a part of the other. The birds on the tree above were equally as happy in their ignorance, and in their love.
The days passed. Dick had lost his restlessness: his wish to wander had vanished. He had no reason to wander; perhaps that was the reason why. In all the broad earth he could not have found anything more desirable than what he had.
Instead now of finding a half-naked savage followed dog- like by his mate, you would have found of an evening a pair of lovers wandering on the reef. They had in a pathetic sort of way attempted to adorn the house with a blue flowering creeper taken from the wood and trained over the entrance.
Emmeline, up to this, had mostly done the cooking, such as it was; Dick helped her now, always. He talked to her no longer in short sentences flung out as if to a dog; and she, almost losing the strange reserve that had clung to her from childhood, half showed him her mind. It was a curious mind: the mind of a dreamer, almost the mind of a poet. The Cluricaunes dwelt there, and vague shapes born of things she had heard about or dreamt of: she had thoughts about the sea and stars, the flowers and birds.
Dick would listen to her as she talked, as a man might listen to the sound of a rivulet. His practical mind could take no share in the dreams of his other half, but her conversation pleased him.
He would look at her for a long time together, absorbed in thought. He was admiring her.
Her hair, blue-black and glossy, tangled him in its meshes; he would stroke it, so to speak, with his eyes, and then pull her close to him and bury his face in it; the smell of it was intoxicating. He breathed her as one does the perfume of a rose.
Her ears were small, and like little white shells. He would take one between finger and thumb and play with it as if it were a toy, pulling at the lobe of it, or trying to flatten out the curved part. Her breasts, her shoulders, her knees, her little feet, every bit of her, he would examine and play with and kiss. She would lie and let him, seeming absorbed in some far-away thought, of which he was the object, then all at once her arms would go round him. All this used to go on in the broad light of day, under the shadow of the artu leaves, with no one to watch except the bright-eyed birds in the leaves above.
Not all their time would be spent in this fashion. Dick was just as keen after the fish. He dug up with a spade --- improvised from one of the boards of the dinghy --- a space of soft earth near the taro patch and planted the seeds of melons he found in the wood; he rethatched the house. They were, in short, as busy as they could be in such a climate, but love-making would come on them in fits, and then everything would be forgotten. Just as one revisits some spot to renew the memory of a painful or pleasant experience received there, they would return to the valley of the idol and spend a whole afternoon in its shade. The absolute happiness of wandering through the woods together, discovering new flowers, getting lost, and finding their way again, was a thing beyond expression.
Dick had suddenly stumbled upon Love. His courtship had lasted only some twenty minutes; it was being gone over again now, and extended.
One day, hearing a curious noise from the tree above the house, he climbed it. The noise came from the nest, which had been temporarily left by the mother bird. It was a gasping, wheezing sound, and it came from four wide-open beaks, so anxious to be fed that one could almost see into the very crops of the owners. They were Koko's children. In another year each of those ugly downy things would, if permitted to live, be a beautiful sapphire- coloured bird with a few dove-coloured tail feathers, coral beak, and bright, intelligent eyes. A few days ago each of these things was imprisoned in a pale green egg. A month ago they were nowhere.
Something hit Dick on the cheek. It was the mother bird returned with food for the young ones. Dick drew his head aside, and she proceeded without more ado to fill their crops.
Dick, who had a complete chart of the lagoon in his head, and knew all the soundings and best fishing places, the locality of the stinging coral, and the places where you could wade right across at low tide --- Dick, one morning, was gathering his things together for a fishing expedition. The place he was going to lay some two and a half miles away across the island, and as the road was bad he was going alone.
Emmeline had been passing a new thread through the beads of the necklace she sometimes wore. This necklace had a history. In the shallows not far away, Dick had found a bed of shell-fish; wading out at low tide, he had taken some of them out to examine. They were oysters. The first one he opened, so disgusting did its appearance seem to him, might have been the last, only that under the beard of the thing lay a pearl. It was about twice the size of a large pea, and so lustrous that even he could not but admire its beauty, though quite unconscious of its value.
He flung the unopened oysters down, and took the thing to Emmeline. Next day, returning by chance to the same spot, he found the oysters he had cast down all dead and open in the sun. He examined them, and found another pearl embedded in one of them. Then he collected nearly a bushel of the oysters, and left them to die and open. The idea had occurred to him of making a necklace for his companion. She had one made of shells, he intended to make her one of pearls.
It took a long time, but it was something to do. He pierced them with a big needle, and at the end of four months or so the thing was complete. Great pearls most of them were --- pure white, black, pink, some perfectly round, some tear shaped, some irregular. The thing was worth fifteen, or perhaps twenty thousand pounds, for he only used the biggest he could find, casting away the small ones as useless.
Emmeline this morning had just finished restringing them on a double thread. She looked pale and not at all well and had been restless all night.
As he went off, armed with his spear and fishing tackle, she waved her hand to him without getting up. Usually she followed him a bit into the wood when he was going away like this, but this morning she just sat at the doorway of the little house, the necklace in her lap, following him with her eyes until he was lost amidst the trees.
He had no compass to guide him, and he needed none. He knew the woods by heart. The mysterious line beyond which scarcely an artu tree was to be found. The long strip of mammee apple --- a regular sheet of it a hundred yards broad, and reaching from the middle of the island right down to the lagoon. The clearings, some almost circular where the ferns grew knee-deep. Then he came to the bad part.
The vegetation here had burst into a riot. All sorts of great sappy stalks of unknown plants barred the way and tangled the foot; and there were boggy places into which one sank horribly. Pausing to wipe one's brow, the stalks and tendrils one had beaten down, or beaten aside, rose up and closed together, making one a prisoner almost as closely surrounded as a fly in amber.
All the noontides that had ever fallen upon the island seemed to have left some of their heat behind them here. The air was damp and close like the air of a laundry; and the mournful and perpetual buzz of insects filled the silence without destroying it.
A hundred men with scythes might make a road through the place to-day; a month or two later, searching for the road, you would find none --- the vegetation would have closed in as water closes when divided.
This was the haunt of the jug orchid --- a veritable jug, lid and all. Raising the lid you would find the jug half filled with water. Sometimes in the tangle up above, between two trees, you would see a thing like a bird come to ruin. Orchids grew here as in a hothouse. All the trees --- the few there were --- had a spectral and miserable appearance. They were half starved by the voluptuous growth of the gigantic weeds.
If one had much imagination one felt afraid in this place, for one felt not alone. At any moment it seemed that one might be touched on the elbow by a hand reaching out from the surrounding tangle. Even Dick felt this, unimaginative and fearless as he was. It took him nearly three-quarters of an hour to get through, and then, at last, came the blessed air of real day, and a glimpse of the lagoon between the tree-boles.
He would have rowed round in the dinghy, only that at low tide the shallows of the north of the island were a bar to the boat's passage. Of course he might have rowed all the way round by way of the strand and reef entrance, but that would have meant a circuit of six miles or more. When he came between the trees down to the lagoon edge it was about eleven o'clock in the morning, and the tide was nearly at the full.
The lagoon just here was like a trough, and the reef was very near, scarcely a quarter of a mile from the shore. The water did not shelve, it went down sheer fifty fathoms or more, and one could fish from the bank just as from a pier head. He had brought some food with him, and he placed it under a tree whilst he prepared his line, which had a lump of coral for a sinker. He baited the hook, and whirling the sinker round in the air sent it flying out a hundred feet from shore. There was a baby cocoa- nut tree growing just at the edge of the water. He fastened the end of his line round the narrow stem, in case of eventualities, and then, holding the line itself, he fished.
He had promised Emmeline to return before sundown.
He was a fisherman. That is to say, a creature with the enduring patience of a cat, tireless and heedless of time as an oyster. He came here for sport more than for fish. Large things were to be found in this part of the lagoon. The last time he had hooked a horror in the form of a cat-fish; at least in outward appearance it was likest to a Mississippi cat-fish. Unlike the cat-fish, it was coarse and useless as food, but it gave good sport.
The tide was now going out, and it was at the going-out of the tide that the best fishing was to be had. There was no wind, and the lagoon lay like a sheet of glass, with just a dimple here and there where the outgoing tide made a swirl in the water.
As he fished he thought of Emmeline and the little house under the trees. Scarcely one could call it thinking. Pictures passed before his mind's eye --- pleasant and happy pictures, sunlit, moonlit, starlit.
Three hours passed thus without a bite or symptom that the lagoon contained anything else but sea-water, and disappointment; but he did not grumble. He was a fisherman. Then he left the line tied to the tree and sat down to eat the food he had brought with him. He had scarcely finished his meal when the baby cocoa-nut tree shivered and became convulsed, and he did not require to touch the taut line to know that it was useless to attempt to cope with the thing at the end of it. The only course was to let it tug and drown itself. So he sat down and watched.
After a few minutes the line slackened, and the little cocoa-nut tree resumed its attitude of pensive meditation and repose. He pulled the line up: there was nothing at the end of it but a hook. He did not grumble; he baited the hook again, and flung it in, for it was quite likely that the ferocious thing in the water would bite again.
Full of this idea and heedless of time he fished and waited. The sun was sinking into the west --- he did not heed it. He had quite forgotten that he had promised Emmeline to return before sunset; it was nearly sunset now. Suddenly, just behind him, from among the trees, he heard her voice, crying:
He felt sure that what he had heard was only fancy, but it was nearly sunset, and more than time to be off. He pulled in his line, wrapped it up, took his fish-spear and started.
It was just in the middle of the bad place that dread came to him. What if anything had happened to her? It was dusk here, and never had the weeds seemed so thick, dimness so dismal, the tendrils of the vines so gin-like. Then he lost his way --- he who was so sure of his way always! The hunter's instinct had been crossed, and for a time he went hither and thither helpless as a ship without a compass. At last he broke into the real wood, but far to the right of where he ought to have been. He felt like a beast escaped from a trap, and hurried along, led by the sound of the surf.
When he reached the clear sward that led down to the lagoon the sun had just vanished beyond the sea-line. A streak of red cloud floated like the feather of a flamingo in the western sky close to the sea, and twilight had already filled the world. He could see the house dimly, under the shadow of the trees, and he ran towards it, crossing the sward diagonally.
Always before, when he had been away, the first thing to greet his eyes on his return had been the figure of Emmeline. Either at the lagoon edge or the house door he would find her waiting for him.
She was not waiting for him to-night. When he reached the house she was not there, and he paused, after searching the place, a prey to the most horrible perplexity, and unable for the moment to think or act.
Since the shock of the occurrence on the reef she had been subjected at times to occasional attacks of headache; and when the pain was more than she could bear she would go off and hide. Dick would hunt for her amidst the trees, calling out her name and hallooing. A faint "halloo" would answer when she heard him, and then he would find her under a tree or bush, with her unfortunate head between her hands, a picture of misery.
He remembered this now, and started off along the borders of the wood, calling to her, and pausing to listen. No answer came.
He searched amidst the trees as far as the little well, waking the echoes with his voice; then he came back slowly, peering about him in the deep dusk that now was yielding to the starlight. He sat down before the door of the house, and, looking at him, you might have fancied him in the last stages of exhaustion. Profound grief and profound exhaustion act on the frame very much in the same way. He sat with his chin resting on his chest, his hands helpless. He could hear her voice, still as he heard it over at the other side of the island. She had been in danger and called to him, and he had been calmly fishing, unconscious of it all.
This thought maddened him. He sat up, stared around him and beat the ground with the palms of his hands; then he sprang to his feet and made for the dinghy. He rowed to the reef: the action of a madman, for she could not possibly be there.
There was no moon, the starlight both lit and veiled the world, and no sound but the majestic thunder of the waves. As he stood, the night wind blowing on his face, the white foam seething before him, and Canopus burning in the great silence overhead, the fact that he stood in the centre of an awful and profound indifference came to his untutored mind with a pang.
He returned to the shore: the house was still deserted. A little bowl made from the shell of a cocoa-nut stood on the grass near the doorway. He had last seen it in her hands, and he took it up and held it for a moment, pressing it tightly to his breast. Then he threw himself down before the doorway, and lay upon his face, with head resting upon his arms in the attitude of a person who is profoundly asleep.
He must have searched through the woods again that night just as a somnambulist searches, for he found himself towards dawn in the valley before the idol. Then it was daybreak --- the world was full of light and colour. He was seated before the house door, worn out and exhausted, when, raising his head, he saw Emmeline's figure coming out from amidst the distant trees on the other side of the sward.
"Where did you GET it?" he asked, absolutely lost in astonishment as she covered the face again gently with the scarf.
"I found it in the woods," replied Emmeline.
Dumb with amazement, he helped her along to the house, and she sat down, resting her head against the bamboos of the wall.
"I felt so bad," she explained; "and then I went off to sit in the woods, and then I remembered nothing more, and when I woke up it was there."
"It's a baby!" said Dick.
"I know," replied Emmeline.
Mrs James's baby, seen in the long ago, had risen up before their mind's eyes, a messenger from the past to explain what the new thing was. Then she told him things --- things that completely shattered the old "cabbage bed" theory, supplanting it with a truth far more wonderful, far more poetical, too, to he who can appreciate the marvel and the mystery of life.
"It has something funny tied on to it," she went on, as if she were referring to a parcel she had just received.
"Let's look," said Dick.
"No," she replied; "leave it alone."
She sat rocking the thing gently, seeming oblivious to the whole world, and quite absorbed in it, as, indeed, was Dick. A physician would have shuddered, but, perhaps fortunately enough, there was no physician on the island. Only Nature, and she put everything to rights in her own time and way.
When Dick had sat marvelling long enough, he set to and lit the fire. He had eaten nothing since the day before, and he was nearly as exhausted as the girl. He cooked some breadfruit, there was some cold fish left over from the day before; this, with some bananas, he served up on two broad leaves, making Emmeline eat first.
Before they had finished, the creature in the bundle, as though it had smelt the food, began to scream. Emmeline drew the scarf aside. It looked hungry; its mouth would now be pinched up and now wide open, its eyes opened and closed. The girl touched it on the lips with her finger, and it seized upon her fingertip and sucked it. Her eyes filled with tears, she looked appealingly at Dick, who was on his knees; he took a banana, peeled it, broke off a bit and handed it to her. She approached it to the baby's mouth. It tried to suck it, failed, blew bubbles at the sun and squalled.
"Wait a minute," said Dick.
There were some green cocoa-nuts he had gathered the day before close by. He took one, removed the green husk, and opened one of the eyes, making an opening also in the opposite side of the shell. The unfortunate infant sucked ravenously at the nut, filled its stomach with the young cocoa-nut juice, vomited violently, and wailed. Emmeline in despair clasped it to her naked breast, wherefrom, in a moment, it was hanging like a leech. It knew more about babies than they did.
Dick would sit by with his knees up to his chin, watching it all. He felt himself to be part proprietor in the thing --- as, indeed, he was. The mystery of the affair still hung over them both. A week ago they two had been alone, and suddenly from nowhere this new individual had appeared.
It was so complete. It had hair on its head, tiny finger- nails, and hands that would grasp you. It had a whole host of little ways of its own, and every day added to them.
In a week the extreme ugliness of the newborn child had vanished. Its face, which had seemed carved in the imitation of a monkey's face from half a brick, became the face of a happy and healthy baby. It seemed to see things, and sometimes it would laugh and chuckle as though it had been told a good joke. Its black hair all came off and was supplanted by a sort of down. It had no teeth. It would lie on its back and kick and crow, and double its fists up and try to swallow them alternately, and cross its feet and play with its toes. In fact, it was exactly like any of the thousand- and-one babies that are born into the world at every tick of the clock.
"What will we call it?" said Dick one day, as he sat watching his son and heir crawling about on the grass under the shade of the breadfruit leaves.
"Hannah," said Emmeline promptly.
The recollection of another baby once heard about was in her mind, and it was as good a name as any other, perhaps, in that lonely place, notwithstanding the fact that Hannah was a boy.
Koko took a vast interest in the new arrival. He would hop round it and peer at it with his head on one side; and Hannah would crawl after the bird and try to grab it by the tail. In a few months so valiant and strong did he become that he would pursue his own father, crawling behind him on the grass, and you might have seen the mother and father and child playing all together like three children, the bird sometimes hovering overhead like a good spirit, sometimes joining in the fun.
Sometimes Emmeline would sit and brood over the child, a troubled expression on her face and a far-away look in her eyes. The old vague fear of mischance had returned --- the dread of that viewless form her imagination half pictured behind the smile on the face of Nature. Her happiness was so great that she dreaded to lose it.
There is nothing more wonderful than the birth of a man, and all that goes to bring it about. Here, on this island, in the very heart of the sea, amidst the sunshine and the wind-blown trees, under the great blue arch of the sky, in perfect purity of thought, they would discuss the question from beginning to end without a blush, the object of their discussion crawling before them on the grass, and attempting to grab feathers from Koko's tail.
It was the loneliness of the place as well as their ignorance of life that made the old, old miracle appear so strange and fresh --- as beautiful as the miracle of death had appeared awful. In thoughts vague and beyond expression in words, they linked this new occurrence with that old occurrence on the reef six years before. The vanishing and the coming of a man.
Hannah, despite his unfortunate name, was certainly a most virile and engaging baby. The black hair which had appeared and vanished like some practical joke played by Nature, gave place to a down at first as yellow as sun-bleached wheat, but in a few months' time tinged with auburn.
One day --- he had been uneasy and biting at his thumbs for some time past --- Emmeline, looking into his mouth, saw something white and like a grain of rice protruding from his gum. It was a tooth just born. He could eat bananas now, and breadfruit, and they often fed him on fish --- a fact which again might have caused a medical man to shudder; yet he throve on it all, and waxed stouter every day.
Emmeline, with a profound and natural wisdom, let him crawl about stark naked, dressed in ozone and sunlight. Taking him out on the reef, she would let him paddle in the shallow pools, holding him under the armpits whilst he splashed the diamond-bright water into spray with his feet, and laughed and shouted.
They were beginning now to experience a phenomenon, as wonderful as the birth of the child's body --- the birth of his intelligence, the peeping out of a little personality with predilections of its own, likes and dislikes.
He knew Dick from Emmeline; and when Emmeline had satisfied his material wants, he would hold out his arms to go to Dick if he were by. He looked upon Koko as a friend, but when a friend of Koko's --- a bird with an inquisitive mind and three red feathers in his tail --- dropped in one day to inspect the newcomer, he resented the intrusion, and screamed.
He had a passion for flowers, or anything bright. He would laugh and shout when taken on the lagoon in the dinghy, and make as if to jump into the water to get at the bright-coloured corals below.
Ah me, we laugh at young mothers, and all the miraculous things they tell us about their babies! They see what we cannot see: the first unfolding of that mysterious flower, the mind.
One day they were out on the lagoon. Dick had been rowing; he had ceased, and was letting the boat drift for a bit. Emmeline was dancing the child on her knee, when it suddenly held out its arms to the oarsman and said:
The little word, so often heard and easily repeated, was its first word on earth.
A voice that had never spoken in the world before had spoken; and to hear his name thus mysteriously uttered by a being he has created is the sweetest and perhaps the saddest thing a man can ever know.
Dick took the child on his knee, and from that moment his love for it was more than his love for Emmeline or anything else on earth.
Great knowledge may lurk in the human mind without the owner of the mind being aware. He or she acts in such or such a way, or thinks in such and such a manner from intuition; in other words, as the outcome of the profoundest reasoning.
When we have learnt to call storms, storms, and death, death, and birth, birth, when we have mastered the sailor's horn-book, and Mr Piddington's law of cyclones, Ellis's anatomy, and Lewer's midwifery, we have already made ourself half blind. We have become hypnotized by words and names. We think in words and names, not in ideas; the commonplace has triumphed, the true intellect is half crushed.
Storms had burst over the island before this. And what Emmeline remembered of them might be expressed by an instance.
The morning would be bright and happy, never so bright the sun, or so balmy the breeze, or so peaceful the blue lagoon; then, with a horrid suddenness, as if sick with dissimulation and mad to show itself, something would blacken the sun, and with a yell stretch out a hand and ravage the island, churn the lagoon into foam, beat down the coconut trees, and slay the birds. And one bird would be left and another taken, one tree destroyed and another left standing. The fury of the thing was less fearful than the blindness of it, and the indifference of it.
One night, when the child was asleep, just after the last star was lit, Dick appeared at the doorway of the house. He had been down to the water's edge and had now returned. He beckoned Emmeline to follow him, and, putting down the child, she did so.
"Come here and look," said he.
He led the way to the water; and as they approached it Emmeline became aware that there was something strange about the lagoon. From a distance it looked pale and solid; it might have been a great stretch of grey marble veined with black. Then, as she drew nearer, she saw that the dull grey appearance was a deception of the eye.
The lagoon was alight and burning.
The phosphoric fire was in its very heart and being; every coral branch was a torch, every fish a passing lantern. The incoming tide moving the waters made the whole glittering floor of the lagoon move and shiver, and the tiny waves to lap the bank, leaving behind them glow-worm traces.
"Look!" said Dick.
He knelt down and plunged his forearm into the water. The immersed part burned like a smouldering torch. Emmeline could see it as plainly as though it were lit by sunlight. Then he drew his arm out, and as far as the water had reached, it was covered by a glowing glove.
They had seen the phosphorescence of the lagoon before; indeed, any night you might watch the passing fish like bars of silver, when the moon was away; but this was something quite new, and it was entrancing.
Emmeline knelt down and dabbled her hands, and made herself a pair of phosphoric gloves, and cried out with pleasure, and laughed. It was all the pleasure of playing with fire without the danger of being burnt. Then Dick rubbed his face with the water till it glowed.
"Wait!" he cried; and, running up to the house, he fetched out Hannah.
He came running down with him to the water's edge, gave Emmeline the child, unmoored the boat, and started out from shore.
The sculls, as far as they were immersed, were like bars of glistening silver; under them passed the fish, leaving cometic tails; each coral clump was a lamp, lending its lustre till the great lagoon was luminous as a lit-up ballroom. Even the child on Emmeline's lap crowed and cried out at the strangeness of the sight.
They landed on the reef and wandered over the flat. The sea was white and bright as snow, and the foam looked like a hedge of fire.
As they stood gazing on this extraordinary sight, suddenly, almost as instantaneously as the switching off of an electric light, the phosphorescence of the sea flickered and vanished.
The moon was rising. Her crest was just breaking from the water, and as her face came slowly into view behind a belt of vapour that lay on the horizon, it looked fierce and red, stained with smoke like the face of Eblis.
As Dick lit the fire to prepare the breakfast, Emmeline walked up and down, holding her baby to her breast; she felt restless and uneasy.
As the morning wore on the darkness increased; a breeze rose up, and the leaves of the breadfruit trees pattered together with the sound of rain falling upon glass. A storm was coming, but there was something different in its approach to the approach of the storms they had already known.
As the breeze increased a sound filled the air, coming from far away beyond the horizon. It was like the sound of a great multitude of people, and yet so faint and vague was it that sudden bursts of the breeze through the leaves above would drown it utterly. Then it ceased, and nothing could be heard but the rocking of the branches and the tossing of the leaves under the increasing wind, which was now blowing sharply and fiercely and with a steady rush dead from the west, fretting the lagoon, and sending clouds and masses of foam right over the reef. The sky that had been so leaden and peaceful and like a solid roof was now all in a hurry, flowing eastward like a great turbulent river in spate.
And now, again, one could hear the sound in the distance --- the thunder of the captains of the storm and the shouting; but still so faint, so vague, so indeterminate and unearthly that it seemed like the sound in a dream.
Emmeline sat amidst the ferns on the floor cowed and dumb, holding the baby to her breast. It was fast asleep. Dick stood at the doorway. He was disturbed in mind, but he did not show it.
The whole beautiful island world had now taken on the colour of ashes and the colour of lead. Beauty had utterly vanished, all seemed sadness and distress.
The cocoa-palms, under the wind that had lost its steady rush and was now blowing in hurricane blasts, flung themselves about in all the attitudes of distress; and whoever has seen a tropical storm will know what a cocoa-palm can express by its movements under the lash of the wind.
Fortunately the house was so placed that it was protected by the whole depth of the grove between it and the lagoon; and fortunately, too, it was sheltered by the dense foliage of the breadfruit, for suddenly, with a crash of thunder as if the hammer of Thor had been flung from sky to earth, the clouds split and the rain came down in a great slanting wave. It roared on the foliage above, which, bending leaf on leaf, made a slanting roof from which it rushed in a steady sheet-like cascade.
Dick had darted into the house, and was now sitting beside Emmeline, who was shivering and holding the child, which had awakened at the sound of the thunder.
For an hour they sat, the rain ceasing and coming again, the thunder shaking earth and sea, and the wind passing overhead with a piercing, monotonous cry.
Then all at once the wind dropped, the rain ceased, and a pale spectral light, like the light of dawn, fell before the doorway.
"It's over!" cried Dick, making to get up.
"Oh, listen!" said Emmeline, clinging to him, and holding the baby to his breast as if the touch of him would give it protection. She had divined that there was something approaching worse than a storm.
Then, listening in the silence, away from the other side of the island, they heard a sound like the droning of a great top.
It was the centre of the cyclone approaching.
A cyclone is a circular storm: a storm in the form of a ring. This ring of hurricane travels across the ocean with inconceivable speed and fury, yet its centre is a haven of peace.
As they listened the sound increased, sharpened, and became a tang that pierced the ear-drums: a sound that shook with hurry and speed, increasing, bringing with it the bursting and crashing of trees, and breaking at last overhead in a yell that stunned the brain like the blow of a bludgeon. In a second the house was torn away, and they were clinging to the roots of the breadfruit, deaf, blinded, half-lifeless.
The terror and the prolonged shock of it reduced them from thinking beings to the level of frightened animals whose one instinct is preservation.
How long the horror lasted they could not tell, when, like a madman who pauses for a moment in the midst of his struggles and stands stock-still, the wind ceased blowing, and there was peace. The centre of the cyclone was passing over the island.
Looking up, one saw a marvellous sight. The air was full of birds, butterflies, insects --- all hanging in the heart of the storm and travelling with it under its protection.
Though the air was still as the air of a summer's day, from north, south, east, and west, from every point of the compass, came the yell of the hurricane.
There was something shocking in this.
In a storm one is so beaten about by the wind that one has no time to think: one is half stupefied. But in the dead centre of a cyclone one is in perfect peace. The trouble is all around, but it is not here. One has time to examine the thing like a tiger in a cage, listen to its voice and shudder at its ferocity.
The girl, holding the baby to her breast, sat up gasping. The baby had come to no harm; it had cried at first when the thunder broke, but now it seemed impassive, almost dazed. Dick stepped from under the tree and looked at the prodigy in the air.
The cyclone had gathered on its way sea-birds and birds from the land; there were gulls, electric white and black man-of-war birds, butterflies, and they all seemed imprisoned under a great drifting dome of glass. As they went, travelling like things without volition and in a dream, with a hum and a roar the south- west quadrant of the cyclone burst on the island, and the whole bitter business began over again.
It lasted for hours, then towards midnight the wind fell; and when the sun rose next morning he came through a cloudless sky, without a trace of apology for the destruction caused by his children the winds. He showed trees uprooted and birds lying dead, three or four canes remaining of what had once been a house, the lagoon the colour of a pale sapphire, and a glass- green, foam-capped sea racing in thunder against the reef.
Bit by bit they began to recover something of their scattered property. The remains of the flannel had been taken by the cyclone and wrapped round and round a slender cocoa-nut tree, till the trunk looked like a gaily bandaged leg. The box of fish- hooks had been jammed into the centre of a cooked breadfruit, both having been picked up by the fingers of the wind and hurled against the same tree; and the stay-sail of the Shenandoah was out on the reef, with a piece of coral carefully placed on it as if to keep it down. As for the lug-sail belonging to the dinghy, it was never seen again.
There is humour sometimes in a cyclone, if you can only appreciate it; no other form of air disturbance produces such quaint effects. Beside the great main whirlpool of wind, there are subsidiary whirlpools, each actuated by its own special imp.
Emmeline had felt Hannah nearly snatched from her arms twice by these little ferocious gimlet winds; and that the whole business of the great storm was set about with the object of snatching Hannah from her, and blowing him out to sea, was a belief which she held, perhaps, in the innermost recesses of her mind.
The dinghy would have been utterly destroyed, had it not heeled over and sunk in shallow water at the first onset of the wind; as it was, Dick was able to bail it out at the next low tide, when it floated as bravely as ever, not having started a single seam.
But the destruction amidst the trees was pitiful. Looking at the woods as a mass, one noticed gaps here and there, but what had really happened could not be seen till one was amongst the trees. Great, beautiful cocoa-nut palms, not dead, but just dying, lay crushed and broken as if trampled upon by some enormous foot. You would come across half a dozen lianas twisted into one great cable. Where cocoa-nut palms were, you could not move a yard without kicking against a fallen nut; you might have picked up full-grown, half-grown, and wee baby nuts, not bigger than small apples, for on the same tree you will find nuts of all sizes and conditions.
One never sees a perfectly straight-stemmed cocoa-palm; they all have an inclination from the perpendicular more or less; perhaps that is why a cyclone has more effect on them than on other trees.
Artus, once so pretty a picture with their diamond- chequered trunks, lay broken and ruined; and right through the belt of mammee apple, right through the bad lands, lay a broad road, as if an army, horse, foot, and artillery, had passed that way from lagoon edge to lagoon edge. This was the path left by the great fore-foot of the storm; but had you searched the woods on either side, you would have found paths where the lesser winds had been at work, where the baby whirlwinds had been at play.
From the bruised woods, like an incense offered to heaven, rose a perfume of blossoms gathered and scattered, of rain-wet leaves, of lianas twisted and broken and oozing their sap; the perfume of newly-wrecked and ruined trees --- the essence and soul of the artu, the banyan and cocoa-palm cast upon the wind.
You would have found dead butterflies in the woods, dead birds too; but in the great path of the storm you would have found dead butterflies' wings, feathers, leaves frayed as if by fingers, branches of the aoa, and sticks of the hibiscus broken into little fragments.
Powerful enough to rip a ship open, root up a tree, half ruin a city. Delicate enough to tear a butterfly wing from wing --- that is a cyclone.
Emmeline, wandering about in the woods with Dick on the day after the storm, looking at the ruin of great tree and little bird, and recollecting the land birds she had caught a glimpse of yesterday being carried along safely by the storm out to sea to be drowned, felt a great weight lifting from her heart. Mischance had come, and spared them and the baby. The blue had spoken, but had not called them.
She felt that something --- the something which we in civilisation call Fate --- was for the present gorged; and, without being annihilated, her incessant hypochondriacal dread condensed itself into a point, leaving her horizon sunlit and clear.
The cyclone had indeed treated them almost, one might say, amiably. It had taken the house but that was a small matter, for it had left them nearly all their small possessions. The tinder box and flint and steel would have been a much more serious loss than a dozen houses, for, without it, they would have had absolutely no means of making a fire.
If anything, the cyclone had been almost too kind to them; had let them pay off too little of that mysterious debt they owed to the gods.
It was a great business cutting the canes and dragging them out in the open. Emmeline helped; whilst Hannah, seated on the grass, played with the bird that had vanished during the storm, but reappeared the evening after.
The child and the bird had grown fast friends; they were friendly enough even at first, but now the bird would sometimes let the tiny hands clasp him right round his body --- at least, as far as the hands would go.
It is a rare experience for a man to hold a tame and unstruggling and unfrightened bird in his hands; next to pressing a woman in his arms, it is the pleasantest tactile sensation he will ever experience, perhaps, in life. He will feel a desire to press it to his heart, if he has such a thing.
Hannah would press Koko to his little brown stomach, as if in artless admission of where his heart lay.
He was an extraordinarily bright and intelligent child. He did not promise to be talkative, for, having achieved the word "Dick," he rested content for a long while before advancing further into the labyrinth of language; but though he did not use his tongue, he spoke in a host of other ways. With his eyes, that were as bright as Koko's, and full of all sorts of mischief; with his hands and feet and the movements of his body. He had a way of shaking his hands before him when highly delighted, a way of expressing nearly all the shades of pleasure; and though he rarely expressed anger, when he did so, he expressed it fully.
He was just now passing over the frontier into toyland. In civilisation he would no doubt have been the possessor of an india-rubber dog or a woolly lamb, but there were no toys here at all. Emmeline's old doll had been left behind when they took flight from the other side of the island, and Dick, a year or so ago, on one of his expeditions, had found it lying half buried in the sand of the beach.
He had brought it back now more as a curiosity than anything else, and they had kept it on the shelf in the house. The cyclone had impaled it on a tree-twig near by, if in derision; and Hannah, when it was presented to him as a plaything, flung it away from him as if in disgust. But he would play with flowers or bright shells, or bits of coral, making vague patterns with them on the sward.
All the toy lambs in the world would not have pleased him better than those things, the toys of the Troglodyte children --- the children of the Stone Age. To clap two oyster shells together and make a noise --- what, after all, could a baby want better than that?
One afternoon, when the house was beginning to take some sort of form, they ceased work and went off into the woods; Emmeline carrying the baby and Dick taking turns with him. They were going to the valley of the idol.
Since the coming of Hannah, and even before, the stone figure standing in its awful and mysterious solitude had ceased to be an object of dread to Emmeline, and had become a thing vaguely benevolent. Love had come to her under its shade; and under its shade the spirit of the child had entered into her from where, who knows? But certainly through heaven.
Perhaps the thing which had been the god of some unknown people had inspired her with the instinct of religion; if so, she was his last worshipper on earth, for when they entered the valley they found him lying upon his face. Great blocks of stone lay around him: there had evidently been a landslip, a catastrophe preparing for ages, and determined, perhaps, by the torrential rain of the cyclone.
In Ponape, Huahine, in Easter Island, you may see great idols that have been felled like this, temples slowly dissolving from sight, and terraces, seemingly as solid as the hills, turning softly and subtly into shapeless mounds of stone.
Over at the other side, sitting on the sand with the break of the reef which faced the east before you, scarcely would the east change colour before the sea-line would be on fire, the sky lit up into an illimitable void of blue, and the sunlight flooding into the lagoon, the ripples of light seeming to chase the ripples of water.
On this side it was different. The sky would be dark and full of stars, and the woods, great spaces of velvety shadow. Then through the leaves of the artu would come a sigh, and the leaves of the breadfruit would patter, and the sound of the reef become faint. The land breeze had awakened, and in a while, as if it had blown them away, looking up, you would find the stars gone, and the sky a veil of palest blue. In this indirect approach of dawn there was something ineffably mysterious. One could see, but the things seen were indecisive and vague, just as they are in the gloaming of an English summer's day.
Scarcely had Emmeline arisen when Dick woke also, and they went out on to the sward, and then down to the water's edge. Dick went in for a swim, and the girl, holding the baby, stood on the bank watching him.
Always after a great storm the weather of the island would become more bracing and exhilarating, and this morning the air seemed filled with the spirit of spring. Emmeline felt it, and as she watched the swimmer disporting in the water, she laughed, and held the child up to watch him. She was fey. The breeze, filled with all sorts of sweet perfumes from the woods, blew her black hair about her shoulders, and the full light of morning coming over the palm fronds of the woods beyond the sward touched her and the child. Nature seemed caressing them.
Dick came ashore, and then ran about to dry himself in the wind. Then he went to the dinghy and examined her; for he had determined to leave the house-building for half a day, and row round to the old place to see how the banana trees had fared during the storm. His anxiety about them was not to be wondered at. The island was his larder, and the bananas were a most valuable article of food. He had all the feelings of a careful housekeeper about them, and he could not rest till he had seen for himself the extent of damage, if damage there was any.
He examined the boat, and then they all went back to breakfast. Living their lives, they had to use forethought. They would put away, for instance, all the shells of the cocoa-nuts they used for fuel; and you never could imagine the blazing splendour there lives in the shell of a cocoa-nut till you see it burning. Yesterday, Dick, with his usual prudence, had placed a heap of sticks, all wet with the rain of the storm, to dry in the sun: as a consequence, they had plenty of fuel to make a fire with this morning.
When they had finished breakfast he got the knife to cut the bananas with if there were any left to cut and, taking the javelin, he went down to the boat, followed by Emmeline and the child.
Dick had stepped into the boat, and was on the point of unmooring her, and pushing her off, when Emmeline stopped him.
"I will go with you."
"You!" said he in astonishment.
"Yes, I'm --- not afraid any more."
It was a fact; since the coming of the child she had lost that dread of the other side of the island or almost lost it.
Death is a great darkness, birth is a great light --- they had intermixed in her mind; the darkness was still there, but it was no longer terrible to her, for it was infused with the light. The result was a twilight sad, but beautiful, and unpeopled with forms of fear.
Years ago she had seen a mysterious door close and shut a human being out for ever from the world. The sight had filled her with dread unimaginable, for she had no words for the thing, no religion or philosophy to explain it away or gloss it over. Just recently she had seen an equally mysterious door open and admit a human being; and deep down in her mind, in the place where the dreams were, the one great fact had explained and justified the other. Life had vanished into the void, but life had come from there. There was life in the void, and it was no longer terrible.
Perhaps all religions were born on a day when some woman, seated upon a rock by the prehistoric sea, looked at her newborn child and recalled to mind her man who had been slain, thus closing the charm and imprisoning the idea of a future state.
Emmeline, with the child in her arms, stepped into the little boat and took her seat in the stern, whilst Dick pushed off. Scarcely had he put out the sculls than a new passenger arrived. It was Koko. He would often accompany them to the reef, though, strangely enough, he would never go there alone of his own accord. He made a circle or two over them, and then lit on the gunwale in the bow, and perched there, humped up, and with his long dove-coloured tail feathers presented to the water.
The oarsman kept close in-shore, and as they rounded the little cape all gay with wild cocoa-nut the bushes brushed the boat, and the child, excited by their colour, held out his hands to them. Emmeline stretched out her hand and broke off a branch; but it was not a branch of the wild cocoa-nut she had plucked, it was a branch of the never-wake-up berries. The berries that will cause a man to sleep, should he eat of them --- to sleep and dream, and never wake up again.
"Throw them away!" cried Dick, who remembered.
"I will in a minute," she replied.
She was holding them up before the child, who was laughing and trying to grasp them. Then she forgot them, and dropped them in the bottom of the boat, for something had struck the keel with a thud, and the water was boiling all round.
There was a savage fight going on below. In the breeding season great battles would take place sometimes in the lagoon, for fish have their jealousies just like men --- love affairs, friendships. The two great forms could be dimly perceived, one in pursuit of the other, and they terrified Emmeline, who implored Dick to row on.
They slipped by the pleasant shores that Emmeline had never seen before, having been sound asleep when they came past them those years ago.
Just before putting off she had looked back at the beginnings of the little house under the artu tree, and as she looked at the strange glades and groves, the picture of it rose before her, and seemed to call her back.
It was a tiny possession, but it was home; and so little used to change was she that already a sort of home-sickness was upon her; but it passed away almost as soon as it came, and she fell to wondering at the things around her, and pointing them out to the child.
When they came to the place where Dick had hooked the albicore, he hung on his oars and told her about it. It was the first time she had heard of it; a fact which shows into what a state of savagery he had been lapsing. He had mentioned about the canoes, for he had to account for the javelin; but as for telling her of the incidents of the chase, he no more thought of doing so than a red Indian would think of detailing to his squaw the incidents of a bear hunt. Contempt for women is the first law of savagery, and perhaps the last law of some old and profound philosophy.
She listened, and when it came to the incident of the shark, she shuddered.
"I wish I had a hook big enough to catch him with," said he, staring into the water as if in search of his enemy.
"Don't think of him, Dick," said Emmeline, holding the child more tightly to her heart. "Row on."
He resumed the sculls, but you could have seen from his face that he was recounting to himself the incident.
When they had rounded the last promontory, and the strand and the break in the reef opened before them, Emmeline caught her breath. The place had changed in some subtle manner; everything was there as before, yet everything seemed different --- the lagoon seemed narrower, the reef nearer, the cocoa-palms not nearly so tall. She was contrasting the real things with the recollection of them when seen by a child. The black speck had vanished from the reef; the storm had swept it utterly away.
Dick beached the boat on the shelving sand, and left Emmeline seated in the stern of it, whilst he went in search of the bananas; she would have accompanied him, but the child had fallen asleep.
Hannah asleep was even a pleasanter picture than when awake. He looked like a little brown Cupid without wings, bow or arrow. He had all the grace of a curled-up feather. Sleep was always in pursuit of him, and would catch him up at the most unexpected moments --- when he was at play, or indeed at any time. Emmeline would sometimes find him with a coloured shell or bit of coral that he had been playing with in his hand fast asleep, a happy expression on his face, as if his mind were pursuing its earthly avocations on some fortunate beach in dreamland.
Dick had plucked a huge breadfruit leaf and given it to her as a shelter from the sun, and she sat holding it over her, and gazing straight before her, over the white, sunlit sands.
The flight of the mind in reverie is not in a direct line. To her, dreaming as she sat, came all sorts of coloured pictures, recalled by the scene before her: the green water under the stern of a ship, and the word Shenandoah vaguely reflected on it; their landing, and the little tea-set spread out on the white sand --- she could still see the pansies painted on the plates, and she counted in memory the lead spoons; the great stars that burned over the reef at nights; the Cluricaunes and fairies; the cask by the well where the convolvulus blossomed, and the wind-blown trees seen from the summit of the hill --- all these pictures drifted before her, dissolving and replacing each other as they went.
There was sadness in the contemplation of them, but pleasure too. She felt at peace with the world. All trouble seemed far behind her. It was as if the great storm that had left them unharmed had been an ambassador from the powers above to assure her of their forbearance, protection, and love.
All at once she noticed that between the boat's bow and the sand there lay a broad, blue, sparkling line. The dinghy was afloat.
The banana trees had not suffered at all; as if by some special dispensation of Providence even the great bunches of fruit had been scarcely injured, and he proceeded to climb and cut them. He cut two bunches, and with one across his shoulder came back down through the trees.
He had got half across the sands, his head bent under the load, when a distant call came to him, and, raising his head, he saw the boat adrift in the middle of the lagoon, and the figure of the girl in the bow of it waving to him with her arm. He saw a scull floating on the water half-way between the boat and the shore, which she had no doubt lost in an attempt to paddle the boat back. He remembered that the tide was going out.
He flung his load aside, and ran down the beach; in a moment he was in the water. Emmeline, standing up in the boat, watched him.
When she found herself adrift, she had made an effort to row back, and in her hurry shipping the sculls she had lost one. With a single scull she was quite helpless, as she had not the art of sculling a boat from the stern. At first she was not frightened, because she knew that Dick would soon return to her assistance; but as the distance between boat and shore increased, a cold hand seemed laid upon her heart. Looking at the shore it seemed very far away, and the view towards the reef was terrific, for the opening had increased in apparent size, and the great sea beyond seemed drawing her to it.
She saw Dick coming out of the wood with the load on his shoulder, and she called to him. At first he did not seem to hear, then she saw him look up, cast the bananas away, and come running down the sand to the water's edge. She watched him swimming, she saw him seize the scull, and her heart gave a great leap of joy.
Towing the scull and swimming with one arm,he rapidly approached the boat. He was quite close, only ten feet away, when Emmeline saw behind him, shearing through the clear rippling water, and advancing with speed, a dark triangle that seemed made of canvas stretched upon a sword-point.
Forty years ago he had floated adrift on the sea in the form and likeness of a small shabby pine-cone, a prey to anything that might find him. He had escaped the jaws of the dog-fish, and the jaws of the dog-fish are a very wide door; he had escaped the albicore and squid: his life had been one long series of miraculous escapes from death. Out of a billion like him born in the same year, he and a few others only had survived.
For thirty years he had kept the lagoon to himself, as a ferocious tiger keeps a jungle. He had known the palm tree on the reef when it was a seedling, and he had known the reef even before the palm tree was there. The things he had devoured, flung one upon another, would have made a mountain; yet he was as clear of enmity as a sword, as cruel and as soulless. He was the spirit of the lagoon.
Emmeline screamed, and pointed to the thing behind the swimmer. He turned, saw it, dropped the oar and made for the boat. She had seized the remaining scull and stood with it poised, then she hurled it blade foremost at the form in the water, now fully visible, and close on its prey.
She could not throw a stone straight, yet the scull went like an arrow to the mark, balking the pursuer and saving the pursued. In a moment more his leg was over the gunwale, and he was saved.
But the scull was lost.
The bird perched on the gunwale seemed to divine their trouble, for he rose in the air, made a circle, and resumed his perch with all his feathers ruffled.
Dick stood in despair, helpless, his hands clasping his head. The shore was drawing away before him, the surf loudening behind him, yet he could do nothing. The island was being taken away from them by the great hand of the sea.
Then, suddenly, the little boat entered the race formed by the confluence of the tides, from the right and left arms of the lagoon; the sound of the surf suddenly increased as though a door had been flung open. The breakers were falling and the sea- gulls crying on either side of them, and for a moment the ocean seemed to hesitate as to whether they were to be taken away into her wastes, or dashed on the coral strand. Only for a moment this seeming hesitation lasted; then the power of the tide prevailed over the power of the swell, and the little boat taken by the current drifted gently out to sea.
Dick flung himself down beside Emmeline, who was seated in the bottom of the boat holding the child to her breast. The bird, seeing the land retreat, and wise in its instinct. rose into the air. It circled thrice round the drifting boat, and then, like a beautiful but faithless spirit, passed away to the shore.
The girl, clasping the baby to her breast, leaned against her companion's shoulder; neither of them spoke. All the wonders in their short existence had culminated in this final wonder, this passing away together from the world of Time. This strange voyage they had embarked on --- to where?
Now that the first terror was over they felt neither sorrow nor fear. They were together. Come what might, nothing could divide them; even should they sleep and never wake up, they would sleep together. Had one been left and the other taken!
As though the thought had occurred to them simultaneously, they turned one to the other, and their lips met, their souls met, mingling in one dream; whilst above in the windless heaven space answered space with flashes of siderial light, and Canopus shone and burned like the pointed sword of Azrael.
Clasped in Emmeline's hand was the last and most mysterious gift of the mysterious world they had known --- the branch of crimson berries.
When the Arago, bound for Papetee, picked up the boats of the Northumberland, only the people in the long-boat were alive. Le Farge, the captain, was mad, and he never recovered his reason. Lestrange was utterly shattered; the awful experience in the boats and the loss of the children had left him a seemingly helpless wreck. The scowbankers, like all their class, had fared better, and in a few days were about the ship and sitting in the sun. Four days after the rescue the Arago spoke the Newcastle, bound for San Francisco, and transshipped the shipwrecked men.
Had a physician seen Lestrange on board the Northumberland as she lay in that long, long calm before the fire, he would have declared that nothing but a miracle could prolong his life. The miracle came about.
In the general hospital of San Francisco, as the clouds cleared from his mind, they unveiled the picture of the children and the little boat. The picture had been there daily, seen but not truly comprehended; the horrors gone through in the open boat, the sheer physical exhaustion, had merged all the accidents of the great disaster into one mournful half-comprehended fact. When his brain cleared all the other incidents fell out of focus, and memory, with her eyes set upon the children, began to paint a picture that he was ever more to see.
Memory cannot produce a picture that Imagination has not retouched; and her pictures, even the ones least touched by Imagination, are no mere photographs, but the world of an artist. All that is inessential she casts away, all that is essential she retains; she idealises, and that is why her picture of a lost mistress has had power to keep a man a celibate to the end of his days, and why she can break a human heart with the picture of a dead child. She is a painter, but she is also a poet.
The picture before the mind of Lestrange was filled with this almost diabolical poetry, for in it the little boat and her helpless crew were represented adrift on a blue and sunlit sea. A sea most beautiful to look at, yet most terrible, bearing as it did the recollections of thirst.
He had been dying, when, raising himself on his elbow, so to say, he looked at this picture. It recalled him to life. His willpower asserted itself, and he refused to die.
The will of a man has, if it is strong enough, the power to reject death. He was not in the least conscious of the exercise of this power; he only knew that a great and absorbing interest had suddenly arisen in him, and that a great aim stood before him --- the recovery of the children.
The disease that was killing him ceased its ravages, or rather was slain in its turn by the increased vitality against which it had to strive. He left the hospital and took up his quarters at the Palace Hotel, and then, like the General of an army, he began to formulate his plan of campaign against Fate.
When the crew of the Northumberland had stampeded, hurling their officers aside, lowering the boats with a rush, and casting themselves into the sea, everything had been lost in the way of ship's papers; the charts, the two logs --- everything, in fact, that could indicate the latitude and longitude of the disaster. The first and second officers and a midshipman had shared the fate of the quarter-boat; of the fore-mast hands saved, not one, of course, could give the slightest hint as to the locality of the spot.
A time reckoning from the Horn told little, for there was no record of the log. All that could be said was that the disaster had occurred somewhere south of the line.
In Le Farge's brain lay for a certainty the position, and Lestrange went to see the captain in the "Maison de Sante," where he was being looked after, and found him quite recovered from the furious mania that he had been suffering from. Quite recovered, and playing with a ball of coloured worsted.
There remained the log of the Arago; in it would be found the latitude and longitude of the boats she had picked up.
The Arago, due at Papetee, became overdue. Lestrange watched the overdue lists from day to day, from week to week, from month to month, uselessly, for the Arago never was heard of again. One could not affirm even that she was wrecked; she was simply one of the ships that never come back from the sea.
A child wanders into the street, or is left by its nurse for a moment, and vanishes. At first the thing is not realised. There is a pang and hurry at the heart which half vanishes, whilst the understanding explains that in a civilised city, if a child gets lost, it will be found and brought back by the neighbours or the police.
But the police know nothing of the matter, or the neighbours, and the hours pass. Any minute may bring back the wanderer; but the minutes pass, and the day wears into evening, and the evening to night, and the night to dawn, and the common sounds of a new day begin.
You cannot remain at home for restlessness; you go out, only to return hurriedly for news. You are eternally listening, and what you hear shocks you; the common sounds of life, the roll of the carts and cabs in the street, the footsteps of the passers- by, are full of an indescribable mournfulness; music increases your misery into madness, and the joy of others is monstrous as laughter heard in hell.
If someone were to bring you the dead body of the child, you might weep, but you would bless him, for it is the uncertainty that kills.
You go mad, or go on living. Years pass by, and you are an old man. You say to yourself: "He would have been twenty years of age to- day."
There is not in the old ferocious penal code of our forefathers a punishment adequate to the case of the man or woman who steals a child.
Lestrange was a wealthy man, and one hope remained to him, that the children might have been rescued by some passing ship. It was not the case of children lost in a city, but in the broad Pacific, where ships travel from all ports to all ports, and to advertise his loss adequately it was necessary to placard the world. Ten thousand dollars was the reward offered for news of the lost ones, twenty thousand for the recovery; and the advertisement appeared in every newspaper likely to reach the eyes of a sailor, from the Liverpool Post to the Dead Bird.
The years passed without anything definite coming in answer to all these advertisements. Once news came of two children saved from the sea in the neighbourhood of the Gilberts, and it was not false news, but they were not the children he was seeking for. This incident at once depressed and stimulated him, for it seemed to say, "If these children have been saved, why not yours?"
The strange thing was, that in his heart he felt a certainty that they were alive. His intellect suggested their death in twenty different forms; but a whisper, somewhere out of that great blue ocean, told him at intervals that what he sought was there, living, and waiting for him.
He was somewhat of the same temperament as Emmeline --- a dreamer, with a mind tuned to receive and record the fine rays that fill this world flowing from intellect to intellect, and even from what we call inanimate things. A coarser nature would, though feeling, perhaps, as acutely the grief, have given up in despair the search. But he kept on; and at the end of the fifth year, so far from desisting, he chartered a schooner and passed eighteen months in a fruitless search, calling at little- known islands, and once, unknowing, at an island only three hundred miles away from the tiny island of this story.
If you wish to feel the hopelessness of this unguided search, do not look at a map of the Pacific, but go there. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of square leagues of sea, thousands of islands, reefs, atolls.
Up to a few years ago there were many small islands utterly unknown; even still there are some, though the charts of the Pacific are the greatest triumphs of hydrography; and though the island of the story was actually on the Admiralty charts, of what use was that fact to Lestrange?
He would have continued searching, but he dared not, for the desolation of the sea had touched him.
In that eighteen months the Pacific explained itself to him in part, explained its vastness, its secrecy and inviolability. The schooner lifted veil upon veil of distance, and veil upon veil lay beyond. He could only move in a right line; to search the wilderness of water with any hope, one would have to be endowed with the gift of moving in all directions at once.
He would often lean over the bulwark rail and watch the swell slip by, as if questioning the water. Then the sunsets began to weigh upon his heart, and the stars to speak to him in a new language, and he knew that it was time to return, if he would return with a whole mind.
When he got back to San Francisco he called upon his agent, Wannamaker of Kearney Street, but there was still no news.
One morning --- to be precise, it was the second day of May, exactly eight years and five months after the wreck of the Northumberland --- Lestrange was in his sitting-room reading, when the bell of the telephone, which stood in the corner of the room, rang. He went to the instrument.
"Are you there?" came a high American voice. "Lestrange --- right- -come down and see me --- Wannamaker --- I have news for you."
Lestrange held the receiver for a moment, then he put it back in the rest. He went to a chair and sat down, holding his head between his hands, then he rose and went to the telephone again; but he dared not use it, he dare not shatter the newborn hope.
"News!" What a world lies in that word. I In Kearney Street he stood before the door of Wannamaker's office collecting himself and watching the crowd drifting by, then he entered and went up the stairs. He pushed open a swing- door and entered a great room. The clink and rattle of a dozen typewriters filled the place, and all the hurry of business; clerks passed and came with sheaves of correspondence in their hands; and Wannamaker himself, rising from bending over a message which he was correcting on one of the typewriters' tables, saw the newcomer and led him to the private office.
"What is it?" said Lestrange.
"Only this," said the other, taking up a slip of paper with a name and address on it. "Simon J. Fountain, of 45 Rathray Street, West- -that's down near the wharves --- says he has seen your ad. in an old number of a paper, and he thinks he can tell you something. He did not specify the nature of the intelligence, but it might be worth finding out.
"I will go there," said Lestrange.
"Do you know Rathray Street?"
Wannamaker went out and called a boy and gave him some directions; then Lestrange and the boy started.
Lestrange left the office without saying "Thank you," or taking leave in any way of the advertising agent who did not feel in the least affronted, for he knew his customer.
Rathray Street is, or was before the earthquake, a street of small clean houses. It had a seafaring look that was accentuated by the marine perfumes from the wharves close by and the sound of steam winches loading or discharging cargo --- a sound that ceased not a night or day as the work went on beneath the sun or the sizzling arc lamps.
No. 45 was almost exactly like its fellows,. neither better nor worse; and the door was opened by a neat, prim woman, small, and of middle age. Commonplace she was, no doubt, but not commonplace to Lestrange.
"Is Mr Fountain in?" he asked. "I have come about the advertisement."
"Oh, have you, sir?" she replied, making way for him to enter, and showing him into a little sitting-room on the left of the passage. "The Captain is in bed; he is a great invalid, but he was expecting, perhaps, someone would call, and he will be able to see you in a minute, if you don't mind waiting."
"Thanks," said Lestrange; "I can wait."
He had waited eight years, what mattered a few minutes now? But at no time in the eight years had he suffered such suspense, for his heart knew that now, just now in this commonplace little house, from the lips of, perhaps, the husband of that commonplace woman, he was going to learn either what he feared to hear, or what he hoped.
It was a depressing little room; it was so clean, and looked as though it were never used. A ship imprisoned in a glass bottle stood upon the mantelpiece, and there were shells from far- away places, pictures of ships in sand --- all the things one finds as a rule adorning an old sailor's home.
Lestrange, as he sat waiting, could hear movements from the next room --- probably the invalid's, which they were preparing for his reception. The distant sounds of the derricks and winches came muted through the tightly shut window that looked as though it never had been opened. A square of sunlight lit the upper part of the cheap lace curtain on the right of the window, and repeated its pattern vaguely on the lower part of the wall opposite. Then a bluebottle fly awoke suddenly into life and began to buzz and drum against the window pane, and Lestrange wished that they would come.
A man of his temperament must necessarily, even under the happiest circumstances, suffer in going through the world; the fine fibre always suffers when brought into contact with the coarse. These people were as kindly disposed as anyone else. The advertisement and the face and manners of the visitor might have told them that it was not the time for delay, yet they kept him waiting whilst they arranged bed-quilts and put medicine bottles straight as if he could see!
At last the door opened, and the woman said:
"Will you step this way, sir?"
She showed him into a bedroom opening off the passage. The room was neat and clean, and had that indescribable appearance which marks the bedroom of the invalid.
In the bed, making a mountain under the counterpane with an enormously distended stomach, lay a man, black-bearded, and with his large, capable, useless hands spread out on the coverlet- -hands ready and willing, but debarred from work. Without moving his body, he turned his head slowly and looked at the newcomer. This slow movement was not from weakness or disease, it was the slow, emotionless nature of the man speaking.
"This is the gentleman, Silas," said the woman, speaking over Lestrange's shoulder. Then she withdrew and closed the door.
"Take a chair, sir," said the sea captain, flapping one of his hands on the counterpane as if in wearied protest against his own helplessness. "I haven't the pleasure of your name, but the missus tells me you're come about the advertisement I lit on yester- even."
He took a paper, folded small, that lay beside him, and held it out to his visitor. It was a Sidney Bulletin three years old.
"Yes," said Lestrange, looking at the paper; "that is my advertisement."
"Well, it's strange --- very strange," said Captain Fountain, "that I should have lit on it only yesterday. I've had it all three years in my chest, the way old papers get lying at the bottom with odds and ends. Mightn't a' seen it now, only the missus cleared the raffle out of the chest, and, `Give me that paper,' I says, seeing it in her hand; and I fell to reading it, for a man'll read anything bar tracts lying in bed eight months, as I've been with the dropsy. I've been whaler man and boy forty year, and my last ship was the Sea-Horse. Over seven years ago one of my men picked up something on a beach of one of them islands east of the Marquesas-_we'd put in to water "
"Yes, yes," said Lestrange. "What was it he found?"
"Missus!" roared the captain in a voice that shook the walls of the room.
The door opened, and the woman appeared.
"Fetch me my keys out of my trousers pocket."
The trousers were hanging up on the back of the door, as if only waiting to be put on. The woman fetched the keys, and he fumbled over them and found one. He handed it to her, and pointed to the drawer of a bureau opposite the bed.
She knew evidently what was wanted, for she opened the drawer and produced a box, which she handed to him. It was a small cardboard box tied round with a bit of string. He undid the string, and disclosed a child's tea service: a teapot, cream jug, six little plates all painted with a pansy.
It was the box which Emmeline had always been losing --- lost again.
Lestrange buried his face in his hands. He knew the things. Emmeline had shown them to him in a burst of confidence. Out of all that vast ocean he had searched unavailingly: they had come to him like a message, and the awe and mystery of it bowed him down and crushed him.
The captain had placed the things on the newspaper spread out by his side, and he was unrolling the little spoons from their tissue- paper covering. He counted them as if entering up the tale of some trust, and placed them on the newspaper.
"When did you find them?" asked Lestrange, speaking with his face still covered.
"A matter of over seven years ago," replied the captain, "we'd put in to water at a place south of the line --- Palm Tree Island we whalemen call it, because of the tree at the break of the lagoon. One of my men brought it aboard, found it in a shanty built of sugarcanes which the men bust up for devilment."
"Good God!" said Lestrange. "Was there no one there --- nothing but this box?"
"Not a sight or sound, so the men said; just the shanty, abandoned seemingly. I had no time to land and hunt for castaways, I was after whales."
"How big is the island?"
"Oh, a fairish middle-sized island --- no natives. I've heard tell it's tabu; why, the Lord only knows --- some crank of the Kanakas I s'pose. Anyhow, there's the findings --- you recognise them?"
"Seems strange," said the captain, "that I should pick em up; seems strange your advertisement out, and the answer to it lying amongst my gear, but that's the way things go."
"Strange!" said the other. "It's more than strange."
"Of course," continued the captain, "they might have been on the island hid away som'ere, there's no saying; only appearances are against it. Of course they might be there now unbeknownst to you or me."
"They are there now," answered Lestrange, who was sitting up and looking at the playthings as though he read in them some hidden message. "They are there now. Have you the position of the island?"
"I have. Missus, hand me my private log."
She took a bulky, greasy, black note-book from the bureau, and handed it to him. He opened it, thumbed the pages, and then read out the latitude and longitude.
"I entered it on the day of finding --- here's the entry. `Adams brought aboard child's toy box out of deserted shanty, which men pulled down; traded it to me for a caulker of rum.' The cruise lasted three years and eight months after that; we'd only been out three when it happened. I forgot all about it: three years scrubbing round the world after whales doesn't brighten a man's memory. Right round we went, and paid off at Nantucket. Then, after a fortni't on shore and a month repairin', the old Sea- Horse was off again, I with her. It was at Honolulu this dropsy took me, and back I come here, home. That's the yarn. There's not much to it, but, seein' your advertisement, I thought I might answer it."
Lestrange took Fountain's hand and shook it.
"You see the reward I offered?" he said. "I have not my cheque book with me, but you shall have the cheque in an hour from now."
"No, SIR," replied the captain; "if anything comes of it, I don't say I'm not open to some small acknowledgment, but ten thousand dollars for a five-cent box --- that's not my way of doing business."
"I can't make you take the money now --- I can't even thank you properly now," said Lestrange --- "I am in a fever; but when all is settled, you and I will settle this business. My God!"
He buried his face in his hands again.
"I'm not wishing to be inquisitive," said Captain Fountain, slowly putting the things back in the box and tucking the paper shavings round them, "but may I ask how you propose to move in this business?"
"I will hire a ship at once and search."
"Ay," said the captain, wrapping up the little spoons in a meditative manner; "perhaps that will be best."
He felt certain in his own mind that the search would be fruitless, but he did not say so. If he had been absolutely certain in his mind without being able to produce the proof, he would not have counselled Lestrange to any other course, knowing that the man's mind would never be settled until proof positive was produced.
"The question is," said Lestrange, "what is my quickest way to get there?"
"There I may be able to help you," said Fountain tying the string round the box "A schooner with good heels to her is what you want; and, if I'm not mistaken, there's one discharging cargo at this present minit at O'Sullivan's wharf. Missus!"
The woman answered the call. Lestrange felt like a person in a dream, and these people who were interesting themselves in his affairs seemed to him beneficent beyond the nature of human beings.
"Is Captain Stannistreet home, think you?"
"I don't know," replied the woman; "but I can go see."
"He lives only a few doors down," said Fountain, "and he's the man for you. Best schooner captain ever sailed out of 'Frisco. The Raratonga is the name of the boat I have in my mind --- best boat that ever wore copper. Stannistreet is captain of her, owners are M'Vitie. She's been missionary, and she's been pigs; copra was her last cargo, and she's nearly discharged it. Oh, M'Vitie would hire her out to Satan at a price; you needn't be afraid of their boggling at it if you can raise the dollars. She's had a new suit of sails only the beginning of the year. Oh, she'll fix you up to a T, and you take the word of S. Fountain for that. I'll engineer the thing from this bed if you'll let me put my oar in your trouble; I'll victual her, and find a crew three quarter price of any of those d --- --- d skulking agents. Oh, I'll take a commission right enough, but I'm half paid with doing the thing "
He ceased, for footsteps sounded in the passage outside, and Captain Stannistreet was shown in. He was a young man of not more than thirty, alert, quick of eye, and pleasant of face. Fountain introduced him to Lestrange, who had taken a fancy to him at first sight.
When he heard about the business in hand, he seemed interested at once; the affair seemed to appeal to him more than if it had been a purely commercial matter, much as copra and pigs.
"If you'll come with me, sir, down to the wharf, I'll show you the boat now," he said, when they had discussed the matter and threshed it out thoroughly.
He rose, bid good-day to his friend Fountain, and Lestrange followed him, carrying the brown paper box in his hand.
O'Sullivan's Wharf was not far away. A tall Cape Horner that looked almost a twin sister of the ill-fated Northumberland was discharging iron, and astern of her, graceful as a dream, with snow-white decks, lay the Raratonga discharging copra.
"That's the boat," said Stannistreet; "cargo nearly all out. How does she strike your fancy?"
"I'll take her," said Lestrange, "cost what it will."
There is no mode of travel to be compared to your sailing- ship. In a great ship, if you have ever made a voyage in one, the vast spaces of canvas, the sky-high spars, the finesse with which the wind is met and taken advantage of, will form a memory never to be blotted out.
A schooner is the queen of all rigs; she has a bounding buoyancy denied to the square-rigged craft, to which she stands in the same relationship as a young girl to a dowager; and the Raratonga was not only a schooner, but the queen, acknowledged of all the schooners in the Pacific.
For the first few days they made good way south; then the wind became baffling and headed them off.
Added to Lestrange's feverish excitement there was an anxiety, a deep and soul-fretting anxiety, as if some half-heard voice were telling him that the children he sought were threatened by some danger.
These baffling winds blew upon the smouldering anxiety in his breast, as wind blows upon embers, causing them to glow. They lasted some days, and then, as if Fate had relented, up sprang on the starboard quarter a spanking breeze, making the rigging sing to a merry tune, and blowing the spindrift from the forefoot, as the Raratonga, heeling to its pressure, went humming through the sea, leaving a wake spreading behind her like a fan.
It took them along five hundred miles, silently and with the speed of a dream. Then it ceased.
The ocean and the air stood still. The sky above stood solid like a great pale blue dome; just where it met the water line of the far horizon a delicate tracery of cloud draped the entire round of the sky.
I have said that the ocean stood still as well as the air: to the eye it was so, for the swell under-running the glitter on its surface was so even, so equable, and so rhythmical, that the surface seemed not in motion. Occasionally a dimple broke the surface, and strips of dark sea-weed floated by, showing up the green; dim things rose to the surface and, guessing the presence of man, sank slowly and dissolved from sight.
Two days, never to be recovered, passed, and still the calm continued. On the morning of the third day it breezed up from the nor'-nor'west, and they continued their course, a cloud of.canvas, every sail drawing, and the music of the ripple under the forefoot.
Captain Stannistreet was a genius in his profession; he could get more speed out of a schooner than any other man afloat, and carry more canvas without losing a stick. He was also, fortunately for Lestrange, a man of refinement and education, and what was better still, understanding.
They were pacing the deck one afternoon, when Lestrange, who was walking with his hands behind him, and his eyes counting the brown dowels in the cream-white planking, broke silence.
"You don't believe in visions and dreams?"
"How do you know that?" replied the other.
"Oh, I only put it as a question; most people say they don't."
"Yes, but most people do."
"I do," said Lestrange.
He was silent for a moment.
"You know my trouble so well that I won't bother you going over it, but there has come over me of late a feeling --- it is like a waking dream."
"I can't quite explain, for it is as if I saw something which my intelligence could not comprehend, or make an image of."
"I think I know what you mean."
"I don't think you do. This is something quite strange. I am fifty, and in fifty years a man has experienced, as a rule, all the ordinary and most of the extraordinary sensations that a human being can be subjected to. Well, I have never felt this sensation before; it comes on only at times. I see, as you might imagine, a young baby sees, and things are before me that I do not comprehend. It is not through my bodily eyes that this sensation comes, but through some window of the mind, from before which a curtain has been drawn."
"That's strange," said Stannistreet, who did not like the conversation over-much, being simply a schooner captain and a plain man, though intelligent enough and sympathetic.
"This something tells me," went on Lestrange, "that there is danger threatening the --- " He ceased, paused a minute, and then, to Stannistreet's relief, went on. "If I talk like that you will think I am not right in my head: let us pass the subject by, let us forget dreams and omens and come to realities. You know how I lost the children; you know how I hope to find them at the place where Captain Fountain found their traces? He says the island was uninhabited, but he was not sure."
"No," replied Stannistreet, "he only spoke of the beach."
"Yes. Well, suppose there were natives at the other side of the island who had taken these children."
"If so, they would grow up with the natives."
"And become savages?"
"Yes; but the Polynesians can't be really called savages; they are a very decent lot I've knocked about amongst them a good while, and a kanaka is as white as a white man --- which is not saying much, but it's something. Most of the islands are civilised now. Of course there are a few that aren't, but still, suppose even that `savages,' as you call them, had come and taken the children off --- "
Lestrange's breath caught, for this was the very fear that was in his heart, though he had never spoken it.
"Well, they would be well treated."
"And brought up as savages?"
"I suppose so."
"Look here," said the captain; "it's all very well talking, but upon my word I think that we civilised folk put on a lot of airs, and waste a lot of pity on savages."
"What does a man want to be but happy?"
"Well, who is happier than a naked savage in a warm climate? Oh, he's happy enough, and he's not always holding a corroboree. He's a good deal of a gentleman; he has perfect health; he lives the life a man was born to live --- face to face with Nature. He doesn't see the sun through an office window or the moon through the smoke of factory chimneys; happy and civilised too but, bless you, where is he? The whites have driven him out; in one or two small islands you may find him still --- a crumb or so of him."
"Suppose," said Lestrange, "suppose those children had been brought up face to face with Nature --- " ' "Yes?"
"Living that free life --- "
"Waking up under the stars" --- Lestrange was speaking with his eyes fixed, as if upon something very far away --- "going to sleep as the sun sets, feeling the air fresh, like this which blows upon us, all around them. Suppose they were like that, would it not be a cruelty to bring them to what we call civilisation?"
"I think it would," said Stannistreet.
Lestrange said nothing, but continued pacing the deck, his head bowed and his hands behind his back.
One evening at sunset, Stannistreet said:
"We're two hundred and forty miles from the island, reckoning from to-day's reckoning at noon. We're going all ten knots even with this breeze; we ought to fetch the place this time to- morrow. Before that if it freshens."
"I am greatly disturbed," said Lestrange.
He went below, and the schooner captain shook his head, and, locking his arm round a ratlin, gave his body to the gentle roll of the craft as she stole along, skirting the sunset, splendid, and to the nautical eye full of fine weather.
The breeze was not quite so fresh next morning, but it had been blowing fairly all the night, and the Raratonga had made good way. About eleven it began to fail. It became the lightest sailing breeze, just sufficient to keep the sails drawing, and the wake rippling and swirling behind. Suddenly Stannistreet, who had been standing talking to Lestrange, climbed a few feet up the mizzen ratlins, and shaded his eyes.
"What is it?" asked Lestrange.
"A boat," he replied. "Hand me that glass you will find in the sling there."
He levelled the glass, and looked for a long time without speaking.
"It's a boat adrift --- a small boat, nothing in her. Stay! I see something white, can't make it out. Hi there!" --- to the fellow at the wheel. "Keep her a point more to starboard." He got on to the deck. "We're going dead on for her."
"Is there any one in her?" asked Lestrange.
"Can't quite make out, but I'll lower the whale-boat and fetch her alongside."
He gave orders for the whale-boat to be slung out and manned.
As they approached nearer, it was evident that the drifting boat, which looked like a ship's dinghy, contained something, but what, could not be made out.
When he had approached near enough, Stannistreet put the helm down and brought the schooner to, with her sails all shivering. He took his place in the bow of the whale-boat and Lestrange in the stern. The boat was lowered, the falls cast off, and the oars bent to the water.
The little dinghy made a mournful picture as she floated, looking scarcely bigger than a walnut shell. In thirty strokes the whale- boat's nose was touching her quarter. Stannistreet grasped her gunwale.
In the bottom of the dinghy lay a girl, naked all but for a strip of coloured striped material. One of her arms was clasped round the neck of a form that was half hidden by her body, the other clasped partly to herself, partly to her companion, the body of a baby. They were natives, evidently, wrecked or lost by some mischance from some inter-island schooner. Their breasts rose and fell gently, and clasped in the girl's hand was a branch of some tree, and on the branch a single withered berry.
"Are they dead?" asked Lestrange, who divined that there were people in the boat, and who was standing up in the stern of the whale-boat trying to see.
"No," said Stannistreet; "they are asleep."
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