Bibliographical material: 1, 2
|Chapter I.||Where the Slush Lamp Burns|
|Chapter II.||Under the Stars|
|Chapter III.||The Shadow and the Fire|
|Chapter IV.||And Like a Dream Dissolved|
|Chapter V.||Voices Heard in the Mist|
|Chapter VI.||Dawn on a Wide, Wide Sea|
|Chapter VII.||Story of the Pig and the Billy-Goat|
|Chapter IX.||Shadows in the Moonlight|
|Chapter X.||The Tragedy of the Boats|
|Chapter XI.||The Island|
|Chapter XII.||The Lake of Azure|
|Chapter XIII.||Death Veiled with Lichen|
|Chapter XIV.||Echoes of Fairy-Land|
|Chapter XV.||Fair Pictures in the Blue|
|Chapter XVI.||The Poetry of Learning|
|Chapter XVII.||The Devil's Cask|
|Chapter XVIII.||The Rat Hunt|
|Chapter XIX.||Starlight on the Foam|
|Chapter XX.||The Dreamer on the Reef|
|Chapter XXI.||The Garland of Flowers|
|Chapter XXIII.||They Move Away|
|Go to BOOK II|
|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|
|Go to BOOK III|
|Chapter I.||Mad Lestrange|
|Chapter II.||The Secret of the Azure|
|Chapter III.||Captain Fountain|
|Chapter IV.||Due South|
"O the Frinch are in the bay,He was dressed in dungaree trousers, a striped shirt, and a jacket baize --- green in parts from the influence of sun and salt. A typical old shell-back, round-shouldered, hooked of finger; a figure with strong hints of a crab about it.
Says the Shan van vaught."
His face was like a moon, seen red through tropical mists; and as he played it wore an expression of strained attention as though the fiddle were telling him tales much more marvellous than the old bald statement about Bantry Bay.
"Left-handed Pat," was his fo'cs'le name; not because he was left-handed, but simply because everything he did he did wrong --- or nearly so. Reefing or furling, or handling a slush tub -- if a mistake was to be made, he made it.
He was a Celt, and all the salt seas that had flowed between him and Connaught these forty years and more had not washed the Celtic element from his blood, nor the belief in fairies from his soul. The Celtic nature is a fast dye, and Mr Button's nature was such that though he had been shanghaied by Larry Marr in 'Frisco, though he had got drunk in most ports of the world, though he had sailed with Yankee captains and been man-handled by Yankee mates, he still carried his fairies about with him -- they, and a very large stock of original innocence.
Nearly over the musician's head swung a hammock from which hung a leg; other hammocks hanging in the semi-gloom called up suggestions of lemurs and arboreal bats. The swinging kerosene lamp cast its light forward past the heel of the bowsprit to the knightheads, lighting here a naked foot hanging over the side of a bunk, here a face from which protruded a pipe, here a breast covered with dark mossy hair, here an arm tattooed.
It was in the days before double topsail yards had reduced ships' crews, and the fo'cs'le of the Northumberland had a full company: a crowd of packet rats such as often is to be found on a Cape Horner "Dutchmen" [sic] Americans -- men who were farm labourers and tending pigs in Ohio three months back, old seasoned sailors like Paddy Button -- a mixture of the best and the worst of the earth, such as you find nowhere else in so small a space as in a ship's fo'cs'le.
The Northumberland had experienced a terrible rounding of the Horn. Bound from New Orleans to 'Frisco she had spent thirty days battling with head-winds and storms -- down there, where the seas are so vast that three waves may cover with their amplitude more than a mile of sea space; thirty days she had passed off Cape Stiff, and just now, at the moment of this story, she was locked in a calm south of the line.
Mr Button finished his tune with a sweep of the bow, and drew his right coat sleeve across his forehead. Then he took out a sooty pipe, filled it with tobacco, and lit it.
"Pawthrick," drawled a voice from the hammock above, from which depended the leg, "what was that yarn you wiz beginnin' to spin ter night 'bout a lip-me-dawn?"
"A which me-dawn?" asked Mr Button, cocking his eye up at the bottom of the hammock while he held the match to his pipe.
"It vas about a green thing," came a sleepy Dutch voice from a bunk.
"Oh, a Leprachaun, you mane. Sure, me mother's sister had one down in Connaught."
"Vat vas it like?" asked the dreamy Dutch voice -- a voice seemingly possessed by the calm that had made the sea like a mirror for the last three days, reducing the whole ship's company meanwhile to the level of wasters.
"Like? Sure, it was like a Leprachaun; and what else would it be like?"
"What like vas that?" persisted the voice.
"It was like a little man no bigger than a big forked radish, an' as green as a cabbidge. Me a'nt had one in her house down in Connaught in the ould days. O musha! musha! the ould days, the ould days! Now, you may b'lave me or b'lave me not, but you could have put him in your pocket, and the grass-green head of him wouldn't more than'v stuck out. She kept him in a cupboard, and out of the cupboard he'd pop if it was a crack open, an' into the milk pans he'd be, or under the beds, or pullin' the stool from under you, or at some other divarsion. He'd chase the pig -- the crathur! -- till it'd be all ribs like an ould umbrilla with the fright, an' as thin as a greyhound with the runnin' by the marnin; he'd addle the eggs so the cocks an' hens wouldn't know what they wis afther wid the chickens comin' out wid two heads on them, an' twinty-seven legs fore and aft. And you'd start to chase him, an' then it'd be main-sail haul, and away he'd go, you behint him, till you'd landed tail over snout in a ditch, an' he'd be back in the cupboard."
"He was a Troll," murmured the Dutch voice.
"I'm tellin' you he was a Leprachaun, and there's no knowin' the divilments he'd be up to. He'd pull the cabbidge, maybe, out of the pot boilin' on the fire forenint your eyes, and baste you in the face with it; and thin, maybe, you'd hold out your fist to him, and he'd put a goulden soverin in it."
"Wisht he was here!" murmured a voice from a bunk near the knightheads.
"Pawthrick," drawled the voice from the hammock above, "what'd you do first if you found y'self with twenty pound in your pocket?"
"What's the use of askin' me?" replied Mr Button. "What's the use of twenty pound to a sayman at say, where the grog's all wather an' the beef's all horse? Gimme it ashore, an' you'd see what I'd do wid it!"
"I guess the nearest grog-shop keeper wouldn't see you comin' for dust," said a voice from Ohio.
"He would not," said Mr Button; "nor you afther me. Be damned to the grog and thim that sells it!"
"It's all darned easy to talk," said Ohio. "You curse the grog at sea when you can't get it; set you ashore, and you're bung full."
"I likes me dhrunk," said Mr Button, "I'm free to admit; an' I'm the divil when it's in me, and it'll be the end of me yet, or me ould mother was a liar. `Pat,' she says, first time I come home from say rowlin', `storms you may escape, an wimmen you may escape, but the potheen 'ill have you.' Forty year ago -- forty year ago!"
"Well," said Ohio, "it hasn't had you yet."
"No," replied Mr Button, "but it will."
The Pacific slept; a vast, vague swell flowing from far away down south under the night, lifted the Northumberland on its undulations to the rattling sound of the reef points and the occasional creak of the rudder; whilst overhead, near the fiery arch of the Milky Way, hung the Southern Cross like a broken kite.
Stars in the sky, stars in the sea, stars by the million and the million; so many lamps ablaze that the firmament filled the mind with the idea of a vast and populous city -- yet from all that living and flashing splendour not a sound.
Down in the cabin -- or saloon, as it was called by courtesy -- were seated the three passengers of the ship; one reading at the table, two playing on the floor.
The man at the table, Arthur Lestrange, was seated with his large, deep-sunken eyes fixed on a book. He was most evidently in consumption -- very near, indeed, to reaping the result of that last and most desperate remedy, a long sea voyage.
Emmeline Lestrange, his little niece -- eight years of age, a mysterious mite, small for her age, with thoughts of her own, wide-pupilled eyes that seemed the doors for visions, and a face that seemed just to have peeped into this world for a moment ere it was as suddenly withdrawn -- sat in a corner nursing something in her arms, and rocking herself to the tune of her own thoughts.
Dick, Lestrange's little son, eight and a bit, was somewhere under the table. They were Bostonians, bound for San Francisco, or rather for the sun and splendour of Los Angeles, where Lestrange had bought a small estate, hoping there to enjoy the life whose lease would be renewed by the long sea voyage.
As he sat reading, the cabin door opened, and appeared an angular female form. This was Mrs Stannard, the stewardess, and Mrs Stannard meant bedtime.
"Dicky," said Mr Lestrange, closing his book, and raising the table-cloth a few inches, "bedtime."
"Oh, not yet, daddy!" came a sleep-freighted voice from under the table; "I ain't ready. I dunno want to go to bed, I -- Hi yow!"
Stannard, who knew her work, had stooped under the table, seized him by the foot, and hauled him out kicking and fighting and blubbering all at the same time.
As for Emmeline, she having glanced up and recognised the inevitable, rose to her feet, and, holding the hideous rag- doll she had been nursing, head down and dangling in one hand, she stood waiting till Dicky, after a few last perfunctory bellows, suddenly dried his eyes and held up a tear-wet face for his father to kiss. Then she presented her brow solemnly to her uncle, received a kiss, and vanished, led by the hand into a cabin on the port side of the saloon.
Mr Lestrange returned to his book, but he had not read for long when the cabin door was opened, and Emmeline, in her nightdress, reappeared, holding a brown paper parcel in her hand, a parcel of about the same size as the book you are reading.
"My box," said she; and as she spoke, holding it up as if to prove its safety, the little plain face altered to the face of an angel.
She had smiled.
When Emmeline Lestrange smiled it was absolutely as if the light of Paradise had suddenly flashed upon her face: the happiest form of childish beauty suddenly appeared before your eyes, dazzled them and was gone.
Then she vanished with her box, and Mr Lestrange resumed his book.
This box of Emmeline's, I may say in parenthesis, had given more trouble aboard ship than all of the rest of the passengers' luggage put together.
It had been presented to her on her departure from Boston by a lady friend, and what it contained was a dark secret to all on board, save its owner and her uncle; she was a woman, or, at all events, the beginning of a woman, yet she kept this secret to her- self -- a fact which you will please note.
The trouble of the thing was that it was frequently being lost. Suspecting herself, maybe, as an unpractical dreamer in a world filled with robbers, she would cart it about with her for safety, sit down behind a coil of rope and fall into a fit of abstraction; be recalled to life by the evolutions of the crew reefing or furling or what not, rise to superintend the operations -- and then suddenly find she had lost her box.
Then she would absolutely haunt the ship. Wide-eyed and distressed of face she would wander hither and thither, peeping into the galley, peeping down the forescuttle, never uttering a word or wail, searching like an uneasy ghost, but dumb.
She seemed ashamed to tell of her loss, ashamed to let any one know of it; but every one knew of it directly they saw her, to use Mr Button's expression, "on the wandher," and every one hunted for it.
Strangely enough it was Paddy Button who usually found it. He who was always doing the wrong thing in the eyes of men, generally did the right thing in the eyes of children. Children, in fact, when they could get at Mr Button, went for him con amore. He was as attractive to them as a Punch and Judy show or a German band -- almost.
Mr Lestrange after a while closed the book he was reading, looked around him and sighed.
The cabin of the Northumberland was a cheerful enough place, pierced by the polished shaft of the mizzen mast, carpeted with an Axminster carpet, and garnished with mirrors let into the white pine panelling. Lestrange was staring at the reflection of his own face in one of these mirrors fixed just opposite to where he sat.
His emaciation was terrible, and it was just perhaps at this moment that he first recognised the fact that he must not only die, but die soon.
He turned from the mirror and sat for a while with his chin resting upon his hand, and his eyes fixed on an ink spot upon the table-cloth; then he arose, and crossing the cabin climbed laboriously up the companionway to the deck.
As he leaned against the bulwark rail to recover his breath, the splendour and beauty of the Southern night struck him to the heart with a cruel pang. He took his seat on a deck chair and gazed up at the Milky Way, that great triumphal arch built of suns that the dawn would sweep away like a dream.
In the Milky Way, near the Southern Cross, occurs a terrible circular abyss, the Coal Sack. So sharply defined is it, so suggestive of a void and bottomless cavern, that the contemplation of it afflicts the imaginative mind with vertigo. To the naked eye it is as black and as dismal as death, but the smallest telescope reveals it beautiful and populous with stars.
Lestrange's eyes travelled from this mystery to the burning cross, and the nameless and numberless stars reaching to the sea-line, where they paled and vanished in the light of the rising moon. Then he became aware of a figure promenading the quarter- deck. It was the "Old Man."
A sea captain is always the "old man," be his age what it may. Captain Le Farges' age might have been forty-five. He was a sailor of the Jean Bart type, of French descent, but a naturalised American.
"I don't know where the wind's gone," said the captain as he drew near the man in the deck chair. "I guess it's blown a hole in the firmament, and escaped somewheres to the back of beyond."
"It's been a long voyage," said Lestrange; "and I'm thinking, Captain, it will be a very long voyage for me. My port's not 'Frisco; I feel it."
"Don't you be thinking that sort of thing," said the other, taking his seat in a chair close by. "There's no manner of use forecastin' the weather a month ahead. Now we're in warm latitoods, your glass will rise steady, and you'll be as right and spry as any one of us, before we fetch the Golden Gates."
"I'm thinking about the children," said Lestrange, seeming not to hear the captain's words. "Should anything happen to me before we reach port, I should like you to do something for me. It's only this: dispose of my body without -- without the children knowing. It has been in my mind to ask you this for some days. Captain, those children know nothing of death."
Le Farge moved uneasily in his chair.
"Little Emmeline's mother died when she was two. Her father -- my brother -- died before she was born. Dicky never knew a mother; she died giving him birth. My God, Captain, death has laid a heavy hand on my family; can you wonder that I have hid his very name from those two creatures that I love!"
"Ay, ay," said Le Farge, "it's sad! it's sad! "
"When I was quite a child," went on Lestrange, "a child no older than Dicky, my nurse used to terrify me with tales about dead people. I was told I'd go to hell when I died if I wasn't a good child. I cannot tell you how much that has poisoned my life, for the thoughts we think in childhood, Captain, are the fathers of the thoughts we think when we are grown up. And can a diseased father have healthy children?"
"I guess not."
"So I just said, when these two tiny creatures came into my care, that I would do all in my power to protect them from the terrors of life -- or rather, I should say, from the terror of death. I don't know whether I have done right, but I have done it for the best. They had a cat, and one day Dicky came in to me and said: `Father, pussy's in the garden asleep, and I can't wake her.' So I just took him out for a walk; there was a circus in the town, and I took him to it. It so filled his mind that he quite forgot the cat. Next day he asked for her. I did not tell him she was buried in the garden, I just said she must have run away. In a week he had forgotten all about her -- children soon forget."
"Ay, that's true," said the sea captain. "But 'pears to me they must learn some time they've got to die."
"Should I pay the penalty before we reach land, and be cast into that great, vast sea, I would not wish the children's dreams to be haunted by the thought: just tell them I've gone on board another ship. You will take them back to Boston; I have here, in a letter, the name of a lady who will care for them. Dicky will be well off, as far as worldly goods are concerned, and so will Emmeline. Just tell them I've gone on board another ship -- children soon forget."
"I'll do what you ask," said the seaman.
The moon was over the horizon now, and the Northumberland lay adrift in a river of silver. Every spar was distinct, every reef point on the great sails, and the decks lay like spaces of frost cut by shadows black as ebony.
As the two men sat without speaking, thinking their own thoughts, a little white figure emerged from the saloon hatch. It was Emmeline. She was a professed sleepwalker -- a past mistress of the art.
Scarcely had she stepped into dreamland than she had lost her precious box, and now she was hunting for it on the decks of the Northumberland.
Mr Lestrange put his finger to his lips, took off his shoes and silently followed her. She searched behind a coil of rope, she tried to open the galley door; hither and thither she wandered, wide-eyed and troubled of face, till at last, in the shadow of the hencoop, she found her visionary treasure. Then back she came, holding up her little nightdress with one hand, so as not to trip, and vanished down the saloon companion very hurriedly, as if anxious to get back to bed, her uncle close behind, with one hand outstretched so as to catch her in case she stumbled.
"Daddy!" suddenly cried Dick, who had clambered up, and was looking over the after-rail.
Lestrange rose to his feet, came aft and looked over the rail.
Down in the vague green of the water something moved, something pale and long -- a ghastly form. It vanished; and yet another came, neared the surface, and displayed itself more fully. Lestrange saw its eyes, he saw the dark fin, and the whole hideous length of the creature; a shudder ran through him as he clasped Dicky.
"Ain't he fine?" said the child. "I guess, daddy, I'd pull him aboard if I had a hook. Why haven't I a hook, daddy? Why haven't I a hook, daddy? -- Ow, you're SQUEEZIN' me!"
Something plucked at Lestrange's coat: it was Emmeline -- she also wanted to look. He lifted her up in his arms; her little pale face peeped over the rail, but there was nothing to see: the forms of terror had vanished, leaving the green depths untroubled and unstained.
"What's they called, daddy?" persisted Dick, as his father took him down from the rail, and led him back to the chair.
"Sharks," said Lestrange, whose face was covered with perspiration.
He picked up the book he had been reading -- it was a volume of Tennyson -- and he sat with it on his knees staring at the white sunlit main-deck barred with the white shadows of the standing rigging.
The sea had disclosed to him a vision. Poetry, Philosophy, Beauty, Art, the love and joy of life -- was it possible that these should exist in the same world as those?
He glanced at the book upon his knees, and contrasted the beautiful things in it which he remembered with the terrible things he had just seen, the things that were waiting for their food under the keel of the ship.
It was three bells -- half-past three in the afternoon --and the ship's bell had just rung out. The stewardess appeared to take the children below; and as they vanished down the saloon companionway, Captain Le Farge came aft, on to the poop, and stood for a moment looking over the sea on the port side, where a bank of fog had suddenly appeared like the spectre of a country.
"The sun has dimmed a bit," said he; "I can a'most look at it. Glass steady enough -- there's a fog coming up -- ever seen a Pacific fog?"
"Well, you won't want to see another," replied the mariner, shading his eyes and fixing them upon the sea-line. The sea- line away to starboard had lost somewhat its distinctness, and over the day an almost imperceptible shade had crept.
The captain suddenly turned from his contemplation of the sea and sky, raised his head and sniffed.
"Something is burning somewhere -- smell it? Seems to me like an old mat or summat. It's that swab of a steward, maybe; if he isn't breaking glass, he's upsetting lamps and burning holes in the carpet. Bless MY soul, I'd sooner have a dozen Mary Anns an' their dustpans round the place than one tomfool steward like Jenkins." He went to the saloon hatch. "Below there!"
"Ay, ay, sir."
"What are you burning?"
"I an't burnin' northen, sir."
"Tell you, I smell it!"
"There's northen burnin' here, sir."
"Neither is there; it's all on deck. Something in the galley, maybe -- rags, most likely, they've thrown on the fire."
"Captain!" said Lestrange.
"Come here, please."
Le Farge climbed on to the poop.
"I don't know whether it's my weakness that's affecting my eyes, but there seems to me something strange about the main- mast."
The main-mast near where it entered the deck, and for some distance up, seemed in motion -- a corkscrew movement most strange to watch from the shelter of the awning.
This apparent movement was caused by a spiral haze of smoke so vague that one could only tell of its existence from the mirage- like tremor of the mast round which it curled.
"My God!" cried Le Farge, as he sprang from the poop and rushed forward.
Lestrange followed him slowly, stopping every moment to clutch the bulwark rail and pant for breath. He heard the shrill bird-like notes of the bosun's pipe. He saw the hands emerging from the forecastle, like bees out of a hive; he watched them surrounding the main-hatch. He watched the tarpaulin and locking-bars removed. He saw the hatch opened, and a burst of smoke -- black, villainous smoke -- ascend to the sky, solid as a plume in the windless air.
Lestrange was a man of a highly nervous temperament, and it is just this sort of man who keeps his head in an emergency, whilst your level-headed, phlegmatic individual loses his balance. His first thought was of the children, his second of the boats.
In the battering off Cape Horn the Northumberland lost several of her boats. There were left the long-boat, a quarter-boat, and the dinghy. He heard Le Farge's voice ordering the hatch to be closed and the pumps manned, so as to flood the hold; and, knowing that he could do nothing on deck, he made as swiftly as he could for the saloon companionway.
Mrs Stannard was just coming out of the children's cabin.
"Are the children lying down, Mrs Stannard?" asked Lestrange, almost breathless from the excitement and exertion of the last few minutes.
The woman glanced at him with frightened eyes. He looked like the very herald of disaster.
"For if they are, and you have undressed them, then you must put their clothes on again. The ship is on fire, Mrs Stannard."
"Good God, sir!"
"Listen!" said Lestrange.
From a distance, thin, and dreary as the crying of sea- gulls on a desolate beach, came the clanking of the pumps.
"Get those children ready!" he shouted, as he rushed into his own cabin. "Get you all ready -- boats are being swung out and victualled. Ho! where are those papers?"
They heard him furiously searching and collecting things in his cabin -- the ship's papers, accounts, things the master mariner clings to as he clings to his life; and as he searched, and found, and packed, he kept bellowing orders for the children to be got on deck. Half mad he seemed, and half mad he was with the knowledge of the terrible thing that was stowed amidst the cargo.
Up on deck the crew, under the direction of the first mate, were working in an orderly manner, and with a will, utterly unconscious of there being anything beneath their feet but an ordinary cargo on fire. The covers had been stripped from the boats, kegs of water and bags of biscuit placed in them. The dinghy, smallest of the boats and most easily got away, was hanging at the port quarter-boat davits flush with the bulwarks; and Paddy Button was in the act of stowing a keg of water in her, when Le Farge broke on to the deck, followed by the stewardess carrying Emmeline, and Mr Lestrange leading Dick. The dinghy was rather a larger boat than the ordinary ships' dinghy, and possessed a small mast and long sail. Two sailors stood ready to man the falls, and Paddy Button was just turning to trundle forward again when the captain seized him.
"Into the dinghy with you," he cried, "and row these children and the passenger out a mile from the ship -- two miles, three miles, make an offing."
"Sure, Captain dear, I've left me fiddle in the -- "
Le Farge dropped the bundle of things he was holding under his left arm, seized the old sailor and rushed him against the bulwarks, as if he meant to fling him into the sea THROUGH the bulwarks.
Next moment Mr Button was in the boat. Emmeline was handed to him, pale of face and wide-eyed, and clasping something wrapped in a little shawl; then Dick, and then Mr Lestrange was helped over.
"No room for more!" cried Le Farge. "Your place will be in the long- boat, Mrs Stannard, if we have to leave the ship. Lower away, lower away!"
The boat sank towards the smooth blue sea, kissed it and was afloat.
Now Mr Button, before joining the ship at Boston, had spent a good while lingering by the quay, having no money wherewith to enjoy himself in a tavern. He had seen something of the lading of the Northumberland, and heard more from a stevedore. No sooner had he cast off the falls and seized the oars, than his knowledge awoke in his mind, living and lurid. He gave a whoop that brought the two sailors leaning over the side.
"Run for your lives I've just rimimbered -- there's two bar'ls of blastin' powther in the houldt."
Then he bent to his oars, as no man ever bent before. Lestrange, sitting in the stern-sheets clasping Emmeline and Dick, saw nothing for a moment after hearing these words. The children, who knew nothing of blasting powder or its effects, though half frightened by all the bustle and excitement, were still amused and pleased at finding themselves in the little boat so close to the blue pretty sea.
Dick put his finger over the side, so that it made a ripple in the water (the most delightful experience of childhood). Emmeline, with one hand clasped in her uncle's, watched Mr Button with a grave sort of half pleasure.
He certainly was a sight worth watching. His soul was filled with tragedy and terror. His Celtic imagination heard the ship blowing up, saw himself and the little dinghy blown to pieces -- nay, saw himself in hell, being toasted by "divils."
But tragedy and terror could find no room for expression on his fortunate or unfortunate face. He puffed and he blew, bulging his cheeks out at the sky as he tugged at the oars, making a hundred and one grimaces -- all the outcome of agony of mind, but none expressing it. Behind lay the ship, a picture not without its lighter side. The long-boat and the quarter-boat, lowered with a rush and seaborne by the mercy of Providence, were floating by the side of the Northumberland.
From the ship men were casting themselves overboard like water-rats, swimming in the water like ducks, scrambling on board the boats anyhow.
From the half-opened main-hatch the black smoke, mixed now with sparks, rose steadily and swiftly and spitefulIy, as if driven through the half-closed teeth of a dragon.
A mile away beyond the Northumberland stood the fog bank. It looked solid, like a vast country that had suddenly and strangely built itself on the sea -- a country where no birds sang and no trees grew. A country with white, precipitous cliffs, solid to look at as the cliffs of Dover.
"I'm spint!" suddenly gasped the oarsman, resting the oar handles under the crook of his knees, and bending down as if he was preparing to butt at the passengers in the stern-sheets. "Blow up or blow down, I'm spint, don't ax me, I'm spint."
Mr Lestrange, white as a ghost, but recovered somewhat from his first horror, gave the Spent One time to recover himself and turned to look at the ship. She seemed a great distance off, and the boats, well away from her, were making at a furious pace towards the dinghy. Dick was still playing with the water, but Emmeline's eyes were entirely occupied with Paddy Button. New things were always of vast interest to her contemplative mind, and these evolutions of her old friend were eminently new.
She had seen him swilling the decks, she had seen him dancing a jig, she had seen him going round the main deck on all fours with Dick on his back, but she had never seen him going on like this before.
She perceived now that he was exhausted, and in trouble about something, and, putting her hand in the pocket of her dress, she searched for something that she knew was there. She produced a Tangerine orange, and leaning forward she touched the Spent One's head with it.
Mr Button raised his head, stared vacantly for a second, saw the proffered orange, and at the sight of it the thought of "the childer" and their innocence, himself and the blasting powder, cleared his dazzled wits, and he took to the sculls again.
"Daddy," said Dick, who had been looking astern, "there's clouds near the ship."
In an incredibly short space of time the solid cliffs of fog had broken. The faint wind that had banked it had pierced it, and was now making pictures and devices of it, most wonderful and weird to see. Horsemen of the mist rode on the water, and were dis- solved; billows rolled on the sea, yet were not of the sea; blankets and spirals of vapour ascended to high heaven. And all with a terrible languor of movement. Vast and lazy and sinister, yet steadfast of purpose as Fate or Death, the fog advanced, taking the world for its own.
Against this grey and indescribably sombre background stood the smouldering ship with the breeze already shivering in her sails, and the smoke from her main-hatch blowing and beckoning as if to the retreating boats.
"Why's the ship smoking like that?" asked Dick. "And look at those boats coming -- when are we going back, daddy?"
"Uncle," said Emmeline, putting her hand in his, as she gazed towards the ship and beyond it, "I'm 'fraid."
"What frightens you, Emmy?" he asked, drawing her to him.
"Shapes," replied Emmeline, nestling up to his side.
"Oh, Glory be to God!"gasped the old sailor, suddenly resting on his oars. "Will yiz look at the fog that's comin' -- "
"I think we had better wait here for the boats," said Mr Lestrange; "we are far enough now to be safe if anything happens."
"Ay, ay," replied the oarsman, whose wits had returned. "Blow up or blow down, she won't hit us from here."
"Daddy," said Dick, "when are we going back? I want my tea."
"We aren't going back, my child," replied his father. "The ship's on fire; we are waiting for another ship."
"Where's the other ship?" asked the child, looking round at the horizon that was clear.
"We can't see it yet," replied the unhappy man, "but it will come."
The long-boat and the quarter-boat were slowly approaching. They looked like beetles crawling over the water, and after them across the glittering surface came a dullness that took the sparkle from the sea -- a dullness that swept and spread like an eclipse shadow.
Now the wind struck the dinghy. It was like a wind from fairyland, almost imperceptible, chill, and dimming the sun. A wind from Lilliput. As it struck the dinghy, the fog took the distant ship.
It was a most extraordinary sight, for in less than thirty seconds the ship of wood became a ship of gauze, a tracery flickered, and was gone forever from the sight of man.
The long-boat was leading by a good way. When she was within hailing distance the captain's voice came.
"Fetch alongside here!"
The long-boat ceased rowing to wait for the quarter-boat that was slowly creeping up. She was a heavy boat to pull at all times, and now she was overloaded.
The wrath of Captain Le Farge with Paddy Button for the way he had stampeded the crew was profound, but he had not time to give vent to it.
"Here, get aboard us, Mr Lestrange!" said he, when the dinghy was alongside; "we have room for one. Mrs Stannard is in the quarter- boat, and it's overcrowded; she's better aboard the dinghy, for she can look after the kids. Come, hurry up, the smother is coming down on us fast. Ahoy!" -- to the quarter-boat, "hurry up, hurry up."
The quarter-boat had suddenly vanished.
Mr Lestrange climbed into the long-boat. Paddy pushed the dinghy a few yards away with the tip of a scull, and then lay on his oars waiting.
"Ahoy! ahoy!" cried Le Farge.
"Ahoy!" came from the fog bank.
Next moment the long-boat and the dinghy vanished from each other's sight: the great fog bank had taken them.
Now a couple of strokes of the port scull would have brought Mr Button alongside the long-boat, so close was he; but the quarter- boat was in his mind, or rather imagination, so what must he do but take three powerful strokes in the direction in which he fancied the quarter-boat to be.
The rest was voices.
"Don't be shoutin' together, or I'll not know which way to pull. Quarter-boat ahoy! where are yez?"
"Port your helm!"
"Ay, ay!" putting his helm, so to speak, to starboard -- "I'll be wid yiz in wan minute, two or three minutes' hard pulling."
"Ahoy !" -- much more faint.
"What d'ye mane rowin' away from me?" -- a dozen strokes.
"Ahoy!" fainter still.
Mr Button rested on his oars.
"Divil mend them I b'lave that was the long-boat shoutin'."
He took to his oars again and pulled vigorously.
"Paddy," came Dick's small voice, apparently from nowhere, "where are we now?"
"Sure, we're in a fog; where else would we be? Don't you be affeared."
"I ain't affeared, but Em's shivering."
"Give her me coat," said the oarsman, resting on his oars and taking it off. "Wrap it round her; and when it's round her we'll all let one big halloo together. There's an ould shawl som'er in the boat, but I can't be after lookin' for it now."
He held out the coat and an almost invisible hand took it; at the same moment a tremendous report shook the sea and sky.
"There she goes," said Mr Button; "an' me old fiddle an' all. Don't be frightened, childer; it's only a gun they're firin' for divarsion. Now we'll all halloo togither -- are yiz ready?"
"Ay, ay," said Dick, who was a picker-up of sea terms.
"Halloo!" yelled Pat.
"Halloo! Halloo!" piped Dick and Emmeline.
A faint reply came, but from where, it was difficult to say. The old man rowed a few strokes and then paused on his oars. So still was the surface of the sea that the chuckling of the water at the boat's bow as she drove forward under the impetus of the last powerful stroke could be heard distinctly. It died out as she lost way, and silence closed round them like a ring.
The light from above, a light that seemed to come through a vast scuttle of deeply muffed glass, faint though it was, almost to extinction, still varied as the little boat floated through the strata of the mist.
A great sea fog is not homogeneous -- its density varies: it is honeycombed with streets, it has its caves of clear air, its cliffs of solid vapour, all shifting and changing place with the subtlety of legerdemain. It has also this wizard peculiarity, that it grows with the sinking of the sun and the approach of darkness.
The sun, could they have seen it, was now leaving the horizon.
They called again. Then they waited, but there was no response.
"There's no use bawlin' like bulls to chaps that's deaf as adders," said the old sailor, shipping his oars; immediately upon which declaration he gave another shout, with the same result as far as eliciting a reply.
"Mr Button!" came Emmeline's voice.
"What is it, honey?"
"You wait wan minit till I find the shawl -- here it is, by the same token! -- an' I'll wrap you up in it."
He crept cautiously aft to the stern-sheets and took Emmeline in his arms.
"Don't want the shawl," said Emmeline; "I'm not so much afraid in your coat." The rough, tobacco-smelling old coat gave her courage somehow.
"Well, thin, keep it on. Dicky, are you cowld?"
"I've got into daddy's great coat; he left it behind him."
"Well, thin, I'll put the shawl round me own shoulders, for it's cowld I am. Are ya hungray, childer?"
"No," said Dick, "but I'm direfully slapy?"
"Slapy, is it? Well, down you get in the bottom of the boat, and here's the shawl for a pilla. I'll be rowin' again in a minit to keep meself warm."
He buttoned the top button of the coat.
"I'm a'right," murmured Emmeline in a dreamy voice.
"Shut your eyes tight," replied Mr Button, "or Billy Winker will be dridgin' sand in them.
`Shoheen, shoheen, shoheen, shoheen, Sho-hu-lo, sho-hu-lo. Shoheen, shoheen, shoheen, shoheen, Hush a by the babby 0.'"
It was the tag of an old nursery folk-song they sing in the hovels of the Achill coast fixed in his memory, along with the rain and the wind and the smell of the burning turf, and the grunting of the pig and the knickety-knock of a rocking cradle.
"She's off," murmured Mr Button to himself, as the form in his arms relaxed. Then he laid her gently down beside Dick. He shifted forward, moving like a crab. Then he put his hand to his pocket for his pipe and tobacco and tinder box. They were in his coat pocket, but Emmeline was in his coat. To search for them would be to awaken her.
The darkness of night was now adding itself to the blindness of the fog. The oarsman could not see even the thole pins. He sat adrift mind and body. He was, to use his own expression, "moithered." Haunted by the mist, tormented by "shapes."
It was just in a fog like this that the Merrows could be heard disporting in Dunbeg bay, and off the Achill coast. Sporting and laughing, and hallooing through the mist, to lead unfortunate fishermen astray.
Merrows are not altogether evil, but they have green hair and teeth, fishes' tails and fins for arms; and to hear them walloping in the water around you like salmon, and you alone in a small boat, with the dread of one coming floundering on board, is enough to turn a man's hair grey.
For a moment he thought of awakening the children to keep him company, but he was ashamed. Then he took to the sculls again, and rowed "by the feel of the water." The creak of the oars was like a companion's voice, the exercise lulled his fears. Now and again, forgetful of the sleeping children, he gave a halloo, and paused to listen. But no answer came.
Then he continued rowing, long, steady, laborious strokes, each taking him further and further from the boats that he was never destined to sight again.
He had shipped his oars just for a minute's rest. He must have slept for hours, for now, behold, a warm, gentle wind was blowing, the moon was shining, and the fog was gone.
"Is it dhraming I've been?" continued the awakened one. "Where am I at all, at all? O musha! sure, here I am. O wirra! wirra! I dreamt I'd gone aslape on the main-hatch and the ship was blown up with powther, and it's all come true."
"Mr Button!" came a small voice from the stern- sheets (Emmeline's).
"What is it, honey?"
"Where are we now?"
"Sure, we're afloat on the say, acushla; where else would we be?"
"He's beyant there in the long-boat -- he'll be afther us in a minit."
"I want a drink."
He filled a tin pannikin that was by the beaker of water, and gave her a drink. Then he took his pipe and tobacco from his coat pocket.
She almost immediately fell asleep again beside Dick, who had not stirred or moved; and the old sailor, standing up and steadying himself, cast his eyes round the horizon. Not a sign of sail or boat was there on all the moonlit sea.
From the low elevation of an open boat one has a very small horizon, and in the vague world of moonlight somewhere round about it was possible that the boats might be near enough to show up at daybreak.
But open boats a few miles apart may be separated by long leagues in the course of a few hours. Nothing is more mysterious than the currents of the sea.
The ocean is an ocean of rivers, some swiftly flowing, some slow, and a league from where you are drifting at the rate of a mile an hour another boat may be drifting two.
A slight warm breeze was frosting the water, blending moonshine and star shimmer; the ocean lay like a lake, yet the nearest mainland was perhaps a thousand miles away.
The thoughts of youth may be long, long thoughts, but not longer than the thoughts of this old sailor man smoking his pipe under the stars. Thoughts as long as the world is round. Blazing bar rooms in Callao -- harbours over whose oily surfaces the sampans slipped like water-beetles -- the lights of Macao -- the docks of London. Scarcely ever a sea picture, pure and simple, for why should an old seaman care to think about the sea, where life is all into the fo'cs'le and out again, where one voyage blends and jumbles with another, where after forty-five years of reefing topsails you can't well remember off which ship it was Jack Rafferty fell overboard, or who it was killed who in the fo'cs'le of what, though you can still see, as in a mirror darkly, the fight, and the bloody face over which a man is holding a kerosene lamp.
I doubt if Paddy Button could have told you the name of the first ship he ever sailed in. If you had asked him, he would probably have replied: "I disremimber; it was to the Baltic, and cruel cowld weather, and I was say-sick till I near brought me boots up; and it was 'O for ould Ireland!' I was cryin' all the time, an' the captin dhrummin me back with a rope's end to the tune uv it -- but the name of the hooker -- I disremimber -- bad luck to her, whoever she was!"
So he sat smoking his pipe, whilst the candles of heaven burned above him, and calling to mind roaring drunken scenes and palmshadowed harbours, and the men and the women he had known -- such men and such women! The derelicts of the earth and the ocean. Then he nodded off to sleep again, and when he awoke the moon had gone.
Now in the eastern sky might have been seen a pale fan of light, vague as the wing of an ephemera. It vanished and changed back to darkness.
Presently, and almost at a stroke, a pencil of fire ruled a line along the eastern horizon, and the eastern sky became more beautiful than a rose leaf plucked in May. The line of fire contracted into one increasing spot, the rim of the rising sun.
As the light increased the sky above became of a blue impossible to imagine unless seen, a wan blue, yet living and sparkling as if born of the impalpable dust of sapphires. Then the whole sea flashed like the harp of Apollo touched by the fingers of the god. The light was music to the soul. It was day.
"Daddy!" suddenly cried Dick, sitting up in the sunlight and rubbing his eyes with his open palms. "Where are we?"
"All right, Dicky, me son!" cried the old sailor, who had been standing up casting his eyes round in a vain endeavour to sight the boats. "Your daddy's as safe as if he was in hivin; he'll be wid us in a minit, an' bring another ship along with him. So you're awake, are you, Em'line?"
Emmeline, sitting up in the old pilot coat, nodded in reply without speaking. Another child might have supplemented Dick's enquiries as to her uncle by questions of her own, but she did not.
Did she guess that there was some subterfuge in Mr Button's answer, and that things were different from what he was making them out to be? Who can tell?
She was wearing an old cap of Dick's, which Mrs Stannard in the hurry and confusion had popped on her head. It was pushed to one side, and she made a quaint enough little figure as she sat up in the early morning brightness, dressed in the old salt- stained coat beside Dick, whose straw hat was somewhere in the bottom of the boat, and whose auburn locks were blowing in the faint breeze.
"Hurroo!" cried Dick, looking around at the blue and sparkling water, and banging with a stretcher on the bottom of the boat. "I'm goin' to be a sailor, aren't I, Paddy? You'll let me sail the boat, won't you, Paddy, an' show me how to row?"
"Aisy does it," said Paddy, taking hold of the child. "I haven't a sponge or towel, but I'll just wash your face in salt wather and lave you to dry in the sun."
He filled the bailing tin with sea water.
"I don't want to wash!" shouted Dick.
"Stick your face into the water in the tin," commanded Paddy. "You wouldn't be going about the place with your face like a sut- bag, would you?"
"Stick yours in!" commanded the other.
Button did so, and made a hub-bubbling noise in the water; then he lifted a wet and streaming face, and flung the contents of the bailing tin overboard.
"Now you've lost your chance," said this arch nursery strategist, "all the water's gone."
"There's more in the sea."
"There's no more to wash with, not till to-morrow -- the fishes don't allow it."
"I want to wash," grumbled Dick. "I want to stick my face in the tin, same's you did; 'sides, Em hasn't washed."
"I don't mind," murmured Emmeline.
"Well, thin," said Mr Button, as if making a sudden resolve, "I'll ax the sharks." He leaned over the boat's side, his face close to the surface of the water. "Halloo there!" he shouted, and then bent his head sideways to listen; the children also looked over the side, deeply interested.
"Halloo there! Are y'aslape? Oh, there y'are! Here's a spalpeen with a dhirty face, an's wishful to wash it; may I take a bailin' tin of -- Oh, thank your 'arner, thank your 'arner -- good day to you, and my respects."
"What did the shark say, Mr Button?" asked Emmeline.
"He said: `Take a bar'l full, an' welcome, Mister Button; an' it's wishful I am I had a drop of the crathur to offer you this fine marnin'.' Thin he popped his head under his fin and went aslape agin; leastwise, I heard him snore."
Emmeline nearly always "Mr Buttoned" her friend; sometimes she called him "Mr Paddy." As for Dick, it was always "Paddy," pure and simple. Children have etiquettes of their own.
It must often strike landsmen and landswomen that the most terrible experience when cast away at sea in an open boat is the total absence of privacy. It seems an outrage on decency on the part of Providence to herd people together so. But, whoever has gone through the experience will bear me out that the human mind enlarges, and things that would shock us ashore are as nothing out there, face to face with eternity.
If so with grown-up people, how much more so with this old shell-back and his two charges?
And indeed Mr Button was a person who called a spade a spade, had no more conventions than a walrus, and looked after his two charges just as a nursemaid might look after her charges, or a walrus after its young.
There was a large bag of biscuits in the boat, and some tinned stuff -- mostly sardines.
I have known a sailor to open a box of sardines with a tin tack. He was in prison, the sardines had been smuggled into him, and he had no can-opener. Only his genius and a tin tack.
Paddy had a jack-knife, however, and in a marvellously short time a box of sardines was opened, and placed on the stern-sheets beside some biscuits.
These, with some water and Emmeline's Tangerine orange, which she produced and added to the common store, formed the feast, and they fell to. When they had finished, the remains were put carefully away, and they proceeded to step the tiny mast.
The sailor, when the mast was in its place, stood for a moment resting his hand on it, and gazing around him over the vast and voiceless blue.
The Pacific has three blues: the blue of morning, the blue of midday, and the blue of evening. But the blue of morning is the happiest: the happiest thing in colour -- sparkling, vague, newborn- -the blue of heaven and youth.
"What are you looking for, Paddy?" asked Dick.
"Say-gulls," replied the prevaricator; then to himself: "Not a sight or a sound of them! Musha! musha! which way will I steer -- north, south, aist, or west? It's all wan, for if I steer to the aist, they may be in the west; and if I steer to the west, they may be in the aist; and I can't steer to the west, for I'd be steering right in the wind's eye. Aist it is; I'll make a soldier's wind of it, and thrust to chance."
He set the sail and came aft with the sheet. Then he shifted the rudder, lit a pipe, leaned luxuriously back and gave the bellying sail to the gentle breeze.
It was part of his profession, part of his nature, that, steering, maybe, straight towards death by starvation and thirst, he was as unconcerned as if he were taking the children for a summer's sail. His imagination dealt little with the future; almost entirely influenced by his immediate surroundings, it could conjure up no fears from the scene now before it. The children were the same.
Never was there a happier starting, more joy in a little boat. During breakfast the seaman had given his charges to understand that if Dick did not meet his father and Emmeline her uncle in a "while or two," it was because he had gone on board a ship, and he'd be along presently. The terror of their position was as deeply veiled from them as eternity is veiled from you or me.
The Pacific was still bound by one of those glacial calms that can only occur when the sea has been free from storms for a vast extent of its surface, for a hurricane down by the Horn will send its swell and disturbance beyond the Marquesas. De Bois in his table of amplitudes points out that more than half the sea disturbances at any given space are caused, not by the wind, but by storms at a great distance.
But the sleep of the Pacific is only apparent. This placid lake, over which the dinghy was pursuing the running ripple, was heaving to an imperceptible swell and breaking on the shores of the Low Archipelago, and the Marquesas in foam and thunder.
Emmeline's rag-doll was a shocking affair from a hygienic or artistic standpoint. Its face was just inked on, it had no features, no arms; yet not for all the dolls in the world would she have exchanged this filthy and nearly formless thing. It was a fetish.
She sat nursing it on one side of the helmsman, whilst Dick, on the other side, hung his nose over the water, on the look- out for fish.
"Why do you smoke, Mr Button?" asked Emmeline, who had been watching her friend for some time in silence.
"To aise me thrubbles," replied Paddy.
He was leaning back with one eye shut and the other fixed on the luff of the sail. He was in his element: nothing to do but steer and smoke, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze. A landsman would have been half demented in his condition, many a sailor would have been taciturn and surly, on the look-out for sails, and alternately damning his soul and praying to his God. Paddy smoked.
"Whoop!" cried Dick. "Look, Paddy!'
An albicore a few cables-lengths to port had taken a flying leap from the flashing sea, turned a complete somersault and vanished.
"It's an albicore takin' a buck lep. Hundreds I've seen before this; he's bein' chased."
"What's chasing him, Paddy?"
"What's chasin' him? why, what else but the gibly- gobly ums!"
Before Dick could enquire as to the personal appearance and habits of the latter, a shoal of silver arrow heads passed the boat and flittered into the water with a hissing sound.
"Thim's flyin' fish. What are you sayin'? -- fish can't fly! Where's the eyes in your head?"
"Are the gibblyums chasing them too?" asked Emmeline fearfully.
"No; 'tis the Billy balloos that's afther thim. Don't be axin' me any more questions now, or I'll be tellin' you lies in a minit."
Emmeline, it will be remembered, had brought a small parcel with her done up in a little shawl; it was under the boat seat, and every now and then she would stoop down to see if it were safe.
Then he told them things. He had spent a year at Deal long ago, where a cousin of his was married to a boatman.
Mr Button had put in a year as a longshoreman at Deal, and he had got a great lot to tell of his cousin and her husband, and more especially of one, Hannah; Hannah was his cousin's baby -- a most marvellous child, who was born with its "buck" teeth fully developed, and whose first unnatural act on entering the world was to make a snap at the "docther." "Hung on to his fist like a bull-dog, and him bawlin' `Murther!'"
"Mrs James," said Emmeline, referring to a Boston acquaintance, "had a little baby, and it was pink."
"Ay, ay," said Paddy; "they're mostly pink to start with, but they fade whin they're washed."
"It'd no teeth," said Emmeline, "for I put my finger in to see."
"The doctor brought it in a bag," put in Dick, who was still steadily fishing -- "dug it out of a cabbage patch; an' I got a trow'l and dug all our cabbage patch up, but there weren't any babies but there were no end of worms."
"I wish I had a baby," said Emmeline, "and I wouldn't send it back to the cabbage patch.
"The doctor," explained Dick, "took it back and planted it again; and Mrs James cried when I asked her, and daddy said it was put back to grow and turn into an angel."
"Angels have wings," said Emmeline dreamily.
"And," pursued Dick, "I told cook, and she said to Jane [that] daddy was always stuffing children up with -- something or 'nother. And I asked daddy to let me see him stuffing up a child -- and daddy said cook'd have to go away for saying that, and she went away next day."
"She had three big trunks and a box for her bonnet," said Emmeline, with a far-away look as she recalled the incident.
"And the cabman asked her hadn't she any more trunks to put on his cab, and hadn't she forgot the parrot cage," said Dick.
"I wish _I_ had a parrot in a cage," murmured Emmeline, moving slightly so as to get more in the shadow of the sail.
"And what in the world would you be doin' with a par't in a cage?" asked Mr Button.
"I'd let it out," replied Emmeline.
"Spakin' about lettin' par'ts out of cages, I remimber me grandfather had an ould pig," said Paddy (they were all talking seriously together like equals). "I was a spalpeen no bigger than the height of me knee, and I'd go to the sty door, and he'd come to the door, and grunt an' blow wid his nose undher it; an' I'd grunt back to vex him, an' hammer wid me fist on it, an' shout `Halloo there! halloo there!' and `Halloo to you!' he'd say, spakin' the pigs' language. `Let me out,' he'd say, `and I'll give yiz a silver shilling.'
"`Pass it under the door,' I'd answer him. Thin he'd stick the snout of him undher the door an' I'd hit it a clip with a stick, and he'd yell murther Irish. An' me mother'd come out an' baste me, an' well I desarved it.
"Well, wan day I opened the sty door, an' out he boulted and away and beyant, over hill and hollo he goes till he gets to the edge of the cliff overlookin' the say, and there he meets a billy- goat, and he and the billy-goat has a division of opinion.
"`Away wid yiz!' says the billy-goat.
"`Away wid yourself!' says he.
"`Whose you talkin' to?' says t'other.
"`Yourself,' says him.
"`Who stole the eggs?' says the billy-goat.
"`Ax your ould grandmother!' says the pig.
"`Ax me ould WHICH mother?' says the billy-goat.
"`Oh, ax me -- ' And before he could complete the sintence, ram, blam, the ould billygoat butts him in the chist, and away goes the both of thim whirtlin' into the say below.
"Thin me ould grandfather comes out, and collars me by the scruff, and `Into the sty with you!' says he; and into the sty I wint, and there they kep' me for a fortnit on bran mash and skim milk -- and well I desarved it."
They dined somewhere about eleven o'clock, and at noon Paddy unstepped the mast and made a sort of little tent or awning with the sail in the bow of the boat to protect the children from the rays of the vertical sun.
Then he took his place in the bottom of the boat, in the stern, stuck Dick's straw hat over his face to preserve it from the sun, kicked about a bit to get a comfortable position, and fell asleep.
As Mr Button stood with his hand on the spar looking round him before going aft with the sheet, an object struck his eye some three miles ahead. Objects rather, for they were the masts and spars of a small ship rising from the water. Not a vestige of sail, just the naked spars. It might have been a couple of old skeleton trees jutting out of the water for all a landsman could have told.
He stared at this sight for twenty or thirty seconds without speaking, his head projected like the head of a tortoise. Then he gave a wild "Hurroo! "
"What is it, Paddy?" asked Dick.
"Hurroo!" replied Button. "Ship ahoy! ship ahoy! Lie to till I be afther boardin' you. Sure, they are lyin' to -- divil a rag of canvas on her -- are they aslape or dhramin'? Here, Dick, let me get aft wid the sheet; the wind'll take us up to her quicker than we'll row."
He crawled aft and took the tiller; the breeze took the sail, and the boat forged ahead.
"Is it daddy's ship?" asked Dick, who was almost as excited as his friend.
"I dinno; we'll see when we fetch her."
"Shall we go on her, Mr Button?" asked Emmeline.
"Ay will we, honey."
Emmeline bent down, and fetching her parcel from under the seat, held it in her lap.
As they drew nearer, the outlines of the ship became more apparent. She was a small brig, with stump topmasts, from the spars a few rags of canvas fluttered. It was apparent soon to the old sailor's eye what was amiss with her.
"She's derelick, bad cess to her!" he muttered; "derelick and done for -- just me luck!"
"I can't see any people on the ship," cried Dick, who had crept forward to the bow. "Daddy's not there."
The old sailor let the boat off a point or two, so as to get a view of the brig more fully; when they were within twenty cable lengths or so he unstepped the mast and took to the sculls.
The little brig floated very low on the water, and presented a mournful enough appearance; her running rigging all slack, shreds of canvas flapping at the yards, and no boats hanging at her davits. It was easy enough to see that she was a timber ship, and that she had started a butt, flooded herself and been abandoned.
Paddy lay on his oars within a few strokes of her. She was floating as placidly as though she were in the harbour of San Francisco; the green water showed in her shadow, and in the green water waved the tropic weeds that were growing from her copper. Her paint was blistered and burnt absolutely as though a hot iron had been passed over it, and over her taffrail hung a large rope whose end was lost to sight in the water.
A few strokes brought them under the stern. The name of the ship was there in faded letters, also the port to which she belonged. " Shenandoah. Martha's Vineyard."
"There's letters on her," said Mr Button. "But I can't make thim out. I've no larnin'."
"I can read them," said Dick.
"So c'n I," murmured Emmeline.
"S_H-E-N-A-N-D-O-A H," spelt Dick.
"What's that?" enquired Paddy. "I don't know," replied Dick, rather downcastedly.
"There you are!" cried the oarsman in a disgusted manner, pulling the boat round to the starboard side of the brig. "They pritind to tache letters to childer in schools, pickin' their eyes out wid book-readin', and here's letters as big as me face an' they can't make hid or tail of them -- be dashed to book- readin'!
The brig had old-fashioned wide channels, regular platforms; and she floated so low in the water that they were scarcely a foot above the level of the dinghy.
Mr Button secured the boat by passing the painter through a channel plate, then, with Emmeline and her parcel in his arms or rather in one arm, he clambered over the channel and passed her over the rail on to the deck. Then it was Dick's turn, and the children stood waiting whilst the old sailor brought the beaker of water, the biscuit, and the tinned stuff on board.
It was a place to delight the heart of a boy, the deck of the Shenandoah; forward right from the main hatchway it was laden with timber. Running rigging lay loose on the deck in coils, and nearly the whole of the quarter-deck was occupied by a deck- house. The place had a delightful smell of sea-beach, decaying wood, tar, and mystery. Bights of buntline and other ropes were dangling from above, only waiting to be swung from. A bell was hung just forward of the foremast. In half a moment Dick was forward hammering at the bell with a belaying pin he had picked from the deck.
Mr Button shouted to him to desist; the sound of the bell jarred on his nerves. It sounded like a summons, and a summons on that deserted craft was quite out of place. Who knew what mightn't answer it in the way of the supernatural? Dick dropped the belaying pin and ran forward. He took the disengaged hand, and the three went aft to the door of the deck- house. The door was open, and they peeped in.
The place had three windows on the starboard side, and through the windows the sun was shining in a mournful manner. There was a table in the middle of the place. A seat was pushed away from the table as if someone had risen in a hurry. On the table lay the remains of a meal, a teapot, two teacups, two plates. On one of the plates rested a fork with a bit of putrifying bacon upon it that some one had evidently been conveying to his mouth when something had happened. Near the teapot stood a tin of condensed milk, haggled open. Some old salt had just been in the act of putting milk in his tea when the mysterious something had occurred. Never did a lot of dead things speak so eloquently as these things spoke.
One could conjure it all up. The skipper, most likely, had finished his tea, and the mate was hard at work at his, when the leak had been discovered, or some derelict had been run into, or whatever it was had happened -- happened. One thing was evident, that since the abandonment of the brig she had experienced fine weather, else the things would not have been left standing so trimly on the table.
Mr Button and Dick entered the place to prosecute enquiries, but Emmeline remained at the door. The charm of the old brig appealed to her almost as much as to Dick, but she had a feeling about it quite unknown to him. A ship where no one was had about it suggestions of "other things."
She was afraid to enter the gloomy deckhouse, and afraid to remain alone outside; she compromised matters by sitting down on the deck. Then she placed the small bundle beside her, and hurriedly took the rag-doll from her pocket, into which it was stuffed head down, pulled its calico skirt from over its head, propped it up against the coaming of the door, and told it not to be afraid.
There was not much to be found in the deck -house, but aft of it were two small cabins like rabbit hutches, once inhabited by the skipper and his mate. Here there were great findings in the way of rubbish. Old clothes, old boots, an old top-hat of that extra- ordinary pattern you may see in the streets of Pernambuco, immensely tall, and narrowing towards the brim. A telescope without a lens, a volume of Hoyt, a nautical almanac, a great bolt of striped flannel shirting, a box of fish hooks. And in one corner- - glorious find! -- a coil of what seemed to be ten yards or so of black rope.
"Baccy, begorra!" shouted Pat, seizing upon his treasure. It was pigtail. You may see coils of it in the tobacconists' windows of seaport towns. A pipe full of it would make a hippopotamus vomit, yet old sailors chew it and smoke it and revel in it.
"We'll bring all the lot of the things out on deck, and see what's worth keepin' an' what's worth leavin'," said Mr Button, taking an immense armful of the old truck; whilst Dick, carrying the top- hat, upon which he had instantly seized as his own special booty, led the way. "Em," shouted Dick, as he emerged from the doorway, "see what I've got!" He popped the awful-looking structure over his head. It went right down to his shoulders.
Emmeline gave a shriek.
"It smells funny," said Dick, taking it off and applying his nose to the inside of it -- "smells like an old hair brush. Here, you try it on."
Emmeline scrambled away as far as she could, till she reached the starboard bulwarks, where she sat in the scupper, breathless and speechless and wide-eyed. She was always dumb when frightened (unless it were a nightmare or a very sudden shock), and this hat suddenly seen half covering Dick frightened her out of her wits. Besides, it was a black thing, and she hated black things -- black cats, black horses; worst of all, black dogs. She had once seen a hearse in the streets of Boston, an old- time hearse with black plumes, trappings and all complete. The sight had nearly given her a fit, though she did not know in the least the meaning of it.
Meanwhile Mr Button was conveying armful after armful of stuff on deck. When the heap was complete, he sat down beside it in the glorious afternoon sunshine, and lit his pipe.
He had searched neither for food or water as yet; content with the treasure God had given him, for the moment the material things of life were forgotten. And, indeed, if he had searched he would have found only half a sack of potatoes in the caboose, for the lazarette was awash, and the water in the scuttle-butt was stinking.
Emmeline, seeing what was in progress, crept up, Dick promising not to put the hat on her, and they all sat round the pile.
"Thim pair of brogues," said the old man, holding a pair of old boots up for inspection like an auctioneer, "would fetch half a dollar any day in the wake in any sayport in the world. Put them beside you, Dick, and lay hold of this pair of britches by the ends of em' -- stritch them."
The trousers were stretched out, examined and approved of, and laid beside the boots.
"Here's a tiliscope wid wan eye shut," said Mr Button, examining the broken telescope and pulling it in and out like a concertina. "Stick it beside the brogues; it may come in handy for somethin'. Here's a book" -- tossing the nautical almanac to the boy. "Tell me what it says."
Dick examined the pages of figures hopelessly.
"I can't read 'em," said Dick; "it's numbers."
"Buzz it overboard," said Mr Button. Dick did what he was told joyfully, and the proceedings resumed.
He tried on the tall hat, and the children laughed. On her old friend's head the thing ceased to have terror for Emmeline.
She had two methods of laughing. The angelic smile before mentioned -- a rare thing -- and, almost as rare, a laugh in which she showed her little white teeth, whilst she pressed her hands together, the left one tight shut, and the right clasped over it.
He put the hat on one side, and continued the sorting, searching all the pockets of the clothes and finding nothing. When he had arranged what to keep, they flung the rest overboard, and the valuables were conveyed to the captain's cabin, there to remain till wanted.
Then the idea that food might turn up useful as well as old clothes in their present condition struck the imaginative mind of Mr Button, and he proceeded to search.
The lazarette was simply a cistern full of sea water; what else it might contain, not being a diver, he could not say. I n the copper of the caboose lay a great lump of putrifying pork or meat of some sort. The harness cask contained nothing except huge crystals of salt. All the meat had been taken away. Still, the provisions and water brought on board from the dinghy would be sufficient to last them some ten days or so, and in the course of ten days a lot of things might happen.
Mr Button leaned over the side. The dinghy was nestling beside the brig like a duckling beside a duck; the broad channel might have been likened to the duck's wing half extended. He got on the channel to see if the painter was safely attached. Having made all secure, he climbed slowly up to the main-yard arm, and looked round upon the sea.
They were seated on the baulks of timber that cumbered the deck of the brig on either side of the caboose. An ideal perch. The sun was setting over Australia way, in a sea that seemed like a sea of boiling gold. Some mystery of mirage caused the water to heave and tremble as if troubled by fervent heat.
"Ay, is he," said Mr Button; "but it's better late than never. Now don't be thinkin' of him, for that won't bring him. Look at the sun goin' into the wather, and don't be spakin' a word, now, but listen and you'll hear it hiss."
The children gazed and listened, Paddy also. All three were mute as the great blazing shield touched the water that leapt to meet it.
You COULD hear the water hiss -- if you had imagination enough. Once having touched the water, the sun went down behind it, as swiftly as a man in a hurry going down a ladder. As he vanished a ghostly and golden twilight spread over the sea, a light exquisite but immensely forlorn. Then the sea became a violet shadow, the west darkened as if to a closing door, and the stars rushed over the sky.
"Mr Button," said Emmeline, nodding towards the sun as he vanished, "where's over there?" "The west," replied he, staring at the sunset. "Chainy and Injee and all away beyant." "Where's the sun gone to now, Paddy?" asked Dick. "He's gone chasin' the moon, an' she's skedadlin' wid her dress brailed up for all she's worth; she'll be along up in a minit. He's always afther her, but he's never caught her yet."
"What would he do to her if he caught her?" asked Emmeline.
"Faith, an' maybe he'd fetch her a skelp an' well she'd desarve it." "Why'd she deserve it?" asked Dick, who was in one of his questioning moods.
"Because she's always delutherin' people an' leadin' thim asthray. Girls or men, she moidhers thim all once she gets the comeither on them; same as she did Buck M'Cann."
"Buck M'Cann? Faith, he was the village ijit where I used to live in the ould days."
"What's that'" "Hould your whisht, an' don't be axin' questions. He was always wantin' the moon, though he was twinty an' six feet four. He'd a gob on him that hung open like a rat-trap with a broken spring, and he was as thin as a barber's pole, you could a' tied a reef knot in the middle of 'um; and whin the moon was full there was no houldin' him." Mr Button gazed at the reflection of the sunset on the water for a moment as if recalling some form from the past, and then proceeded. "He'd sit on the grass starin' at her, an' thin he'd start to chase her over the hills, and they'd find him at last, maybe a day or two later, lost in the mountains, grazin' on berries, and as green as a cabbidge from the hunger an' the cowld, till it got so bad at long last they had to hobble him."
"I've seen a donkey hobbled," cried Dick.
"Thin you've seen the twin brother of Buck M'Cann. Well, one night me elder brother Tim was sittin' over the fire, smokin' his dudeen an' thinkin' of his sins, when in comes Buck with the hobbles on him.
"`Tim,' says he, `I've got her at last!'
"`Got who?' says Tim.
"`The moon,' says he.
"`Got her where?' says Tim.
"`In a bucket down by the pond,' says t'other, `safe an' sound an' not a scratch on her; you come and look,' says he. So Tim follows him, he hobblin', and they goes to the pond side, and there, sure enough, stood a tin bucket full of wather, an' on the wather the refliction of the moon. "`I dridged her out of the pond,' whispers Buck. `Aisy now,' says he, `an' I'll dribble the water out gently,' says he, `an' we'll catch her alive at the bottom of it like a trout.' So he drains the wather out gently of the bucket till it was near all gone, an' then he looks into the bucket expectin' to find the moon flounderin' in the bottom of it like a flat fish.
"`She's gone, bad 'cess to her!' says he. "`Try again,' says me brother, and Buck fills the bucket again, and there was the moon sure enough when the water came to stand still. "`Go on,' says me brother. `Drain out the wather, but go gentle, or she'll give yiz the slip again.'
"`Wan minit,' says Buck, `I've got an idea,' says he; `she won't give me the slip this time,' says he. `You wait for me,' says he; and off he hobbles to his old mother's cabin a stone's-throw away, and back he comes with a sieve.
"`You hold the sieve,' says Buck, `and I'll drain the water into it; if she'scapes from the bucket we'll have her in the sieve.' And he pours the wather out of the bucket as gentle as if it was crame out of a jug. When all the wather was out he turns the bucket bottom up, and shook it.
"`Ran dan the thing!' he cries, `she's gone again'; an' wid that he flings the bucket into the pond, and the sieve afther the bucket, when up comes his old mother hobbling on her stick.
"`Where's me bucket?' says she.
"`In the pond,' say Buck.
"`And me sieve?' says she.
"`Gone afther the bucket.'
"`I'll give yiz a bucketin!' says she; and she up with the stick and landed him a skelp, an' driv him roarin' and hobblin' before her, and locked him up in the cabin, an' kep' him on bread an' wather for a wake to get the moon out of his head; but she might have saved her thruble, for that day month in it was agin. . . . There she comes!"
The moon, argent and splendid, was breaking from the water. She was full, and her light was powerful almost as the light of day. The shadows of the children and the queer shadow of Mr Button were cast on the wall of the caboose hard and black as silhouettes.
"Look at our shadows!" cried Dick, taking off his broad-brimmed straw hat and waving it.
Emmeline held up her doll to see ITS shadow, and Mr Button held up his pipe.
"Come now," said he, putting the pipe back in his mouth, and making to rise, "and shadda off to bed; it's time you were aslape, the both of you."
Dick began to yowl.
"_I_ don't want to go to bed; I aint tired, Paddy -- les's stay a little longer."
"Not a minit," said the other, with all the decision of a nurse; "not a minit afther me pipe's out!"
"Fill it again," said Dick.
Mr Button made no reply. The pipe gurgled as he puffed at it -- a kind of death-rattle speaking of almost immediate extinction.
"Mr Button!" said Emmeline. She was holding her nose in the air and sniffing; seated to windward of the smoker, and out of the pigtail-poisoned air, her delicate sense of smell perceived something lost to the others."
"What is it, acushla?"
"I smell something."
"What d'ye say you smell?"
"What's it like?" asked Dick, sniffing hard. "_I_ don't smell anything."
Emmeline sniffed again to make sure.
"Flowers," said she.
The breeze, which had shifted several points since midday, was bearing with it a faint, faint odour: a perfume of vanilla and spice so faint as to be imperceptible to all but the most acute olfactory sense.
"Flowers!" said the old sailor, tapping the ashes cut of his pipe against the heel of his boot. "And where'd you get flowers in middle of the say? It's dhramin' you are. Come now -- to bed wid yiz!"
"Fill it again," wailed Dick, referring to the pipe.
"It's a spankin' I'll give you," replied his guardian, lifting him down from the timber baulks, and then assisting Emmeline, "in two ticks if you don't behave. Come along, Em'line."
He started aft, a small hand in each of his, Dick bellowing.
As they passed the ship's bell, Dick stretched towards the belaying pin that was still lying on the deck, seized it, and hit the bell a mighty bang. It was the last pleasure to be snatched before sleep, and he snatched it.
Paddy had made up beds for himself and his charges in the deck- house; he had cleared the stuff off the table, broken open the windows to get the musty smell away, and placed the mattresses from the captain and mate's cabins on the floor.
When the children were in bed and asleep, he went to the starboard rail, and, leaning on it, looked over the moonlit sea. He was thinking of ships as his wandering eye roved over the sea spaces, little dreaming of the message that the perfumed breeze was bearing him. The message that had been received and dimly understood by E mmeline. Then he leaned with his back to the rail and his hands in his pockets. He was not thinking now, he was ruminating.
The basis of the Irish character as exemplified by Paddy Button is a profound laziness mixed with a profound melancholy. Yet Paddy, in his left-handed way, was as hard a worker as any man on board ship; and as for melancholy, he was the life and soul of the fo'cs'le. Yet there they were, the laziness and the melancholy, only waiting to be tapped.
As he stood with his hands thrust deep in his pockets, longshore fashion, counting the dowels in the planking of the deck by the mooniight, he was reviewing the "old days." The tale of Buck M'Cann had recalled them, and across all the salt seas he could see the moonlight on the Connemara mountains, and hear the sea- gulls crying on the thunderous beach where each wave has behind it three thousand miles of sea.
Suddenly Mr Button came back from the mountains of Connemara to find himself on the deck of the Shenandoah; and he instantly became possessed by fears. Beyond the white deserted deck, barred by the shadows of the standing rigging, he could see the door of the caboose. Suppose he should suddenly see a head pop out or, worse, a shadowy form go in?
He turned to the deck-house, where the children were sound asleep, and where, in a few minutes, he, too, was sound asleep beside them, whilst all night long the brig rocked to the gentle swell of the Pacific, and the breeze blew, bringing with it the perfume of flowers.
"Can you see the dinghy?" asked Lestrange of the captain, who was standing up searching the horizon.
"Not a speck," answered Le Farge. "DAMN that Irishman! but for him I'd have got the boats away properly victualled and all; as it is I don't know what we've got aboard. You, Jenkins, what have you got forward there?"
"Two bags of bread and a breaker of water," answered the steward.
"A breaker of water be sugared!" came another voice; "a breaker half full, you mean."
Then the steward's voice: "So it is; there's not more than a couple of gallons in her."
"My God!" said Le Farge. "DAMN that Irishman!"
"There's not more than'll give us two half pannikins apiece all round," said the steward.
"Maybe," said Le Farge, "the quarter- boat's better stocked; pull for her."
"She's pulling for us," said the stroke oar.
"Captain," asked Lestrange, "are you sure there's no sight of the dinghy?"
"None," replied Le Farge.
The unfortunate man's head sank on his breast. He had little time to brood over his troubles, however, for a tragedy was beginning to unfold around him, the most shocking, perhaps, in the annals of the sea -- a tragedy to be hinted at rather than spoken of.
When the boats were within hailing distance, a man in the bow of the long-boat rose up.
"How much water have you?"
The word came floating over the placid moonlit water. At it the fellows in the long-boat ceased rowing, and you could see the water-drops dripping off their oars like diamonds in the moonlight.
"Quarter-boat, ahoy!" shouted the fellow in the bow. "Lay on your oars."
"Here, you scowbanker!" cried Le Farge, "who are you to be giving directions -- "
"Scowbanker yourself!" replied the fellow. "Bullies, put her about!"
The starboard oars backed water, and the boat came round.
By chance the worst lot of the Northumberland's crew were in the long-boat veritable -- "scowbankers" scum; and how scum clings to life you will never know, until you have been amongst it in an open boat at sea. Le Farge had no more command over this lot than you have who are reading this book.
"Heave to!" came from the quarter-boat, as she laboured behind.
"Lay on your oars, bullies!" cried the ruffian at the bow, who was still standing up like an evil genius who had taken momentary command over events. "Lay on your oars, bullies; they'd better have it now."
The quarter-boat in her turn ceased rowing, and lay a cable's length away.
"How much water have you?" came the mate's voice.
"Not enough to go round."
Le Farge made to rise, and the stroke oar struck at him, catching him in the wind and doubling him up in the bottom of the boat.
"Give us some, for God's sake!" came the mate's voice; "we're parched with rowing, and there's a woman on board!"
The fellow in the bow of the long-boat, as if someone had suddenly struck him, broke into a tornado of blasphemy.
"Give us some," came the mate's voice, "or, by God, we'll lay you aboard!"
Before the words were well spoken the men in the quarter- boat carried the threat into action. The conflict was brief: the quarter-boat was too crowded for fighting. The starboard men in the long-boat fought with their oars, whilst the fellows to port steadied the boat.
The fight did not last long, and presently the quarter- boat sheered off, half of the men in her cut about the head and bleeding -- two of them senseless.
* * * * *
It was sundown on the following day. The long-boat lay adrift. The last drop of water had been served out eight hours before.
The quarter-boat, like a horrible phantom, had been haunting and pursuing her all day, begging for water when there was none. It was like the prayers one might expect to hear in hell.
The men in the long-boat, gloomy and morose, weighed down with a sense of crime, tortured by thirst, and tormented by the voices imploring for water, lay on their oars when the other boat tried to approach.
Now and then, suddenly, and as if moved by a common impulse, they would all shout out together: "We have none." But the quarter-boat would not believe. It was in vain to hold the breaker with the bung out to prove its dryness, the half-delirious creatures had it fixed in their minds that their comrades were withholding from them the water that was not.
Just as the sun touched the sea, Lestrange, rousing himself from a torpor into which he had sunk, raised himself and looked over the gunwale. He saw the quarter-boat drifting a cable's length away, lit by the full light of sunset, and the spectres in it, seeing him, held out in mute appeal their blackened tongues.
Of the night that followed it is almost impossible to speak. Thirst was nothing to what the scowbankers suffered from the torture of the whimpering appeal for water that came to them at intervals during the night.
When at last the Arago, a French whale ship, sighted them, the crew of the long-boat were still alive, but three of them were raving madmen. Of the crew of the quarter- boat was saved not one.
"Hurrah!" cried Dick. He was not quite sure what an island might be like in the concrete, but it was something fresh, and Paddy's voice was jubilant.
"Land ho! it is," said he, coming down to the deck. "Come for'ard to the bows, and I'll show it you."
He stood on the timber in the bows and lifted Emmeline up in his arms; and even at that humble elevation from the water she could see something of an undecided colour -- green for choice -- on the horizon.
It was not directly ahead, but on the starboard bow -- or, as she would have expressed it, to the right. When Dick had looked and expressed his disappointment at there being so little to see, Paddy began to make preparations for leaving the ship.
It was only just now, with land in sight, that he recognised in some fashion the horror of the position from which they were about to escape.
He fed the children hurriedly with some biscuits and tinned meat, and then, with a biscuit in his hand, eating as he went, he trotted about the decks, collecting things and stowing them in the dinghy. The bolt of striped flannel, all the old clothes, a housewife full of needles and thread, such as seamen sometimes carry, the half- sack of potatoes, a saw which he found in the caboose, the precious coil of tobacco, and a lot of other odds and ends he transhipped, sinking the little dinghy several strakes in the process. Also, of course, he took the breaker of water, and the remains of the biscuit and tinned stuff they had brought on board. These being stowed, and the dinghy ready, he went forward with the children to the bow, to see how the island was bearing.
It had loomed up nearer during the hour or so in which he had been collecting and storing the things -- nearer, and more to the right, which meant that the brig was being borne by a fairly swift current, and that she would pass it, leaving it two or three miles to starboard. It was well they had command of the dinghy.
"The sea's all round it," said Emmeline, who was seated on Paddy's shoulder, holding on tight to him, and gazing upon the island, the green of whose trees was now visible, an oasis of verdure in the sparkling and seraphic blue.
"Are we going there, Paddy?" asked Dick, holding on to a stay, and straining his eyes towards the land.
"Ay, are we," said Mr Button. "Hot foot -- five knots, if we're makin' wan; and it's ashore we'll be by noon, and maybe sooner."
The breeze had freshened up, and was blowing dead from the island, as though the island were making a weak attempt to blow them away from it.
Oh, what a fresh and perfumed breeze it was! All sorts of tropical growing things had joined their scent in one bouquet.
"Smell it," said Emmeline, expanding her small nostrils. "That's what I smelt last night, only it's stronger now."
The last reckoning taken on board the Northumberland had proved the ship to be south by east of the Marquesas; this was evidentIy one of those small, lost islands that lie here and there scuth by east of the Marquesas. Islands the most lonely and beautiful in the world.
As they gazed it grew before them, and shifted still more to the right. It was hilly and green now, though the trees could not be clearly made out; here, the green was lighter in colour, and there, darker. A rim of pure white marble seemed to surround its base. It was foam breaking on the barrier reef.
In another hour the feathery foliage of the cocoanut palms could be made out, and the old sailor judged it time to take to the boat.
He lifted Emmeline, who was clasping her luggage, over the rail on to the channel, and deposited her in the sternsheets; then Dick.
In a moment the boat was adrift, the mast steeped, and the Shenandoah left to pursue her mysterious voyage at the will of the currents of the sea.
"You're not going to the island, Paddy," cried Dick, as the old man put the boat on the port tack.
"You be aisy," replied the other, "and don't be larnin' your gran'mother. How the divil d'ye think I'd fetch the land sailin' dead in the wind's eye?"
"Has the wind eyes?"
Mr Button did not answer the question. He was troubled in his mind. What if the island were inhabited? He had spent several years in the South Seas. He knew the people of the Marquesas and Samoa, and liked them. But here he was out of his bearings.
However, all the troubling in the world was of no use. It was a case of the island or the deep sea, and, putting the boat on the starboard tack, he lit his pipe and leaned back with the tiller in the crook of his arm. His keen eyes had made out from the deck of the brig an opening in the reef, and he was making to run the dinghy abreast of the opening, and then take to the sculls and row her through.
Now, as they drew nearer, a sound came on the breeze -- sound faint and sonorous and dreamy. It was the sound of the breakers on the reef. The sea just here was heaving to a deeper swell, as if vexed in its sleep at the resistance to it of the land.
Emmeline, sitting with her bundle in her lap, stared without speaking at the sight before her. Even in the bright, glorious sunshine, and despite the greenery that showed beyond, it was a desolate sight seen from her place in the dinghy. A white, forlorn beach, over which the breakers raced and tumbled, seagulls wheeling and screaming, and over all the thunder of the surf.
Suddenly the break became visible, and a glimpse of smooth, blue water beyond. Button unshipped the tiller, unstepped the mast, and took to the sculls.
As they drew nearer, the sea became more active, savage, and alive; the thunder of the surf became louder, the breakers more fierce and threatening, the opening broader.
One could see the water swirling round the coral piers, for the tide was flooding into the lagoon; it had seized the little dinghy and was bearing it along far swifter than the sculls could have driven it. Sea-gulls screamed around them, the boat rocked and swayed. Dick shouted with excitement, and Emmeline shut her eyes TIGHT.
Then, as though a door had been swiftly and silently closed, the sound of the surf became suddenly less. The boat floated on an even keel; she opened her eyes and found herself in Wonderland.
Before them the clear water washed the sands of a white beach, the cocoa-palms waved and whispered in the breeze; and as the oarsman lay on his oars to look a flock of bluebirds rose, as if suddenly freed from the treetops, wheeled, and passed soundless, like a wreath of smoke, over the tree-tops of the higher land beyond.
"Look!" shouted Dick, who had his nose over the of the boat. "Look at the FISH!"
"Mr Button," cried Emmeline, "where are we?"
"Bedad, I dunno; but we might be in a worse place, I'm thinkin'," replied the old man, sweeping his eyes over the blue and tranquil lagoon, from the barrier reef to the happy shore.
On either side of the broad beach before them the cocoa- nut trees came down like two regiments, and bending gazed at their own reflections in the lagoon. Beyond lay waving chapparel, where cocoa-palms and breadfruit trees intermixed with the mammee apple and the tendrils of the wild vine. On one of the piers of coral at the break of the reef stood a single cocoa-palm; bending with a slight curve, it, too, seemed seeking its reflection in the waving water.
But the soul of it all, the indescribable thing about this picture of mirrored palm trees, blue lagoon, coral reef and sky, was the light.
Away at sea the light was blinding, dazzling, cruel. Away at sea it had nothing to focus itself upon, nothing to exhibit but infinite spaces of blue water and desolation.
Here it made the air a crystal, through which the gazer saw the loveliness of the land and reef, the green of palm, the white of coral, the wheeling gulls, the blue lagoon, all sharply outlined -- burning, coloured, arrogant, yet tender -- heart- breakingly beautiful, for the spirit of eternal morning was here, eternal happiness, eternal youth.
As the oarsman pulled the tiny craft towards the beach, neither he nor the children saw away behind the boat, on the water near the bending palm tree at the break in the reef, something that for a moment insulted the day, and was gone. Something like a small triangle of dark canvas, that rippled through the water and sank from sight; something that appeared and vanished like an evil thought.
It did not take long to beach the boat. Mr Button tumbled over the side up to his knees in water, whilst Dick crawled over the bow.
"Catch hould of her the same as I do," cried Paddy, laying hold of the starboard gunwale; whilst Dick, imitative as a monkey, seized the gunwale to port. Now then:
"Yeo ho, Chilliman, Up wid her, up wid her, Heave 0, Chilliman.'
"Lave her be now; she's high enough."
He took Emmeline in his arms and carried her up on the sand. It was from just here on the sand that you could see the true beauty of the lagoon. That lake of sea-water forever protected from storm and trouble by the barrier reef of coral.
Right from where the little clear ripples ran up the strand, it led the eye to the break in the coral reef where the palm gazed at its own reflection in the water, and there, beyond the break, one caught a vision of the great heaving, sparkling sea.
The lagoon, just here, was perhaps more than a third of a mile broad. I have never measured it, but I. know that, standing by the palm tree on the reef, flinging up one's arm and shouting to a person on the beach, the sound took a perceptible time to cross the water: I should say, perhaps, an almost perceptible time. The distant signal and the distant call were almost coincident, yet not quite.
Dick, mad with delight at the place in which he found himself, was running about like a dog just out of the water. Mr Button was discharging the cargo of the dinghy on the dry, white sand. Emmeline seated herself with her precious bundle on the sand, and was watching the operations of her friend, looking at the things around her and feeling very strange.
For all she knew all this was the ordinary accompaniment of a sea voyage. Paddy's manner throughout had been set to the one idea, not to frighten the "childer"; the weather had backed him up. But down in the heart of her lay the knowledge that all was not as it should be. The hurried departure from the ship, the fog in which her uncle had vanished, those things, and others as well, she felt instinctively were not right. But she said nothing.
She had not long for meditation, however, for Dick was running towards her with a live crab which he had picked up, calling out that he was going to make it bite her.
"Take it away!" cried Emmeline, holding both hands with fingers widespread in front of her face. "Mr Button! Mr Button! Mr Button!"
"Lave her be, you little divil!" roared Pat, who was depositing the last of the cargo on the sand. "Lave her be, or it's a cow-hidin' I'll be givin' you!"
"What's a `divil,' Paddy?" asked Dick, panting from his exertions. "Paddy, what's a `divil'?"
"You're wan. Ax no questions now, for it's tired I am, an' I want to rest me bones."
He flung himself under the shade of a palm tree, took out his tinder box, tobacco and pipe, cut some tobacco up, filled his pipe and lit it. Emmeline crawled up, and sat near him, and Dick flung himself down on the sand near Emmeline.
Mr Button took off his coat and made a pillow of it against a cocoa-nut tree stem. He had found the El Dorado of the weary. With his knowledge of the South Seas a glance at the vegetation to be seen told him that food for a regiment might be had for the taking; water, too.
Right down the middle of the strand was a depression which in the rainy season would be the bed of a rushing rivulet. The water just now was not strong enough to come all the way to the lagoon, but away up there "beyant" in the woods lay the source, and he'd find it in due time. There was enough in the breaker for a week, and green "cucanuts" were to be had for the climbing.
Emmeline contemplated Paddy for a while as he smoked and rested his bones, then a great thought occurred to her. She took the little shawl from around the parcel she was holding and exposed the mysterious box.
"Oh, begorra, the box!" said Paddy, leaning on his elbow interestedly; "I might a' known you wouldn't a' forgot it."
"Mrs James," said Emmeline, "made me promise not to open it till I got on shore, for the things in it might get lost."
"Well, you're ashore now," said Dick; "open it."
"I'm going to," said Emmeline.
She carefully undid the string, refusing the assistance of Paddy's knife. Then the brown paper came off, disclosing a common cardboard box. She raised the lid half an inch, peeped in, and shut it again.
OPEN it!" cried Dick, mad with curiosity.
"What's in it, honey?" asked the old sailor, who was as interested as Dick.
"Things," replied Emmeline.
Then all at once she took the lid off and disclosed a tiny tea service of china, packed in shavings; there was a teapot with a lid, a cream jug, cups and saucers, and six microscopic plates, each painted with a pansy.
"Sure, it's a tay-set!" said Paddy, in an interested voice."
Glory be to God! will you look at the little plates wid the flowers on thim?"
"Heugh!" said Dick in disgust; "I thought it might a' been soldiers."
"_I_ don't want soldiers," replied Emmeline, in a voice of perfect contentment.
She unfolded a piece of tissue paper, and took from it a sugar- tongs and six spoons. Then she arrayed the whole lot on the sand.
"Well, if that don't beat all!" said Paddy.
"And whin are you goin' to ax me to tay with you?"
"Some time," replied Emmeline, collecting the things, and carefully repacking them.
Mr Button finished his pipe, tapped the ashes out, and placed it in his pocket.
"I'll be afther riggin' up a bit of a tint," said he, as he rose to his feet, "to shelter us from the jew to-night; but I'll first have a look at the woods to see if I can find wather. Lave your box with the other things, Emmeline; there's no one here to take it."
Emmeline left her box on the heap of things that Paddy had placed in the shadow of the cocoa-nut trees, took his hand, and the three entered the grove on the right.
It was like entering a pine forest; the tall symmetrical stems of the trees seemed set by mathematical law, each at a given distance from the other. Whichever way you entered a twilight alley set with tree boles lay before you. Looking up you saw at an immense distance above a pale green roof patined with sparkling and flashing points of light, where the breeze was busy playing with the green fronds of the trees.
"Mr Button," murmured Emmeline, "we won't get lost, will we?"
"Lost! No, faith; sure we're goin' uphill, an' all we have to do is to come down again, when we want to get back -- 'ware nuts!" A green nut detached from up above came down rattling and tumbling and hopped on the ground. Paddy picked it up. "It's a green cucanut," said he, putting it in his pocket (it was not very much bigger than a Jaffa orange), "and we'll have it for tay."
"That's not a cocoa-nut," said Dick; "coco- anuts are brown. I had five cents once an' I bought one, and scraped it out and y'et it."
"When Dr. Sims made Dicky sick," said Emmeline, "he said the wonder t'im was how Dicky held it all."
"Come on," said Mr Button, "an' don't be talkin', or it's the Cluricaunes will be after us."
"What's cluricaunes?" demanded Dick.
"Little men no bigger than your thumb that make the brogues for the Good People."
"Whisht, and don't be talkin'. Mind your head, Em'leen, or the branches'll be hittin' you in the face."
They had left the cocoa-nut grove, and entered the chapparel. Here was a deeper twilight, and all sorts of trees lent their foliage to make the shade. The artu with its delicately diamonded trunk, the great bread-fruit tall as a beech, and shadowy as a cave, the aoa, and the eternal cocoa-nut palm all grew here like brothers. Great ropes of wild vine twined like the snake of the laocoon from tree to tree, and all sorts of wonderful flowers, from the orchid shaped like a butterfly to the scarlet hibiscus, made beautiful the gloom.
Suddenly Mr Button stopped.
"Whisht!" said he.
Through the silence -- a silence filled with the hum and the murmur of wood insects and the faint, far song of the reef -- came a tinkling, rippling sound: it was water. He listened to make sure of the bearing of the sound, then he made for it.
Next moment they found themselves in a little grass-grown glade. From the hilly ground above, over a rock black and polished like ebony, fell a tiny cascade not much broader than one's hand; ferns grew around and from a tree above a great rope of wild convolvulus flowers blew their trumpets in the enchanted twilight.
The children cried out at the prettiness of it, and Emmeline ran and dabbled her hands in the water. Just above the little water- fall sprang a banana tree laden with fruit; it had immense leaves six feet long and more, and broad as a dinner-table. One could see the golden glint of the ripe fruit through the foliage.
In a moment Mr Button had kicked off his shoes and was going up the rock like a cat, absolutely, for it seemed to give him nothing to climb by.
"Hurroo!" cried Dick in admiration. "Look at Paddy!"
Emmeline looked, and saw nothing but swaying leaves.
"Stand from under!" he shouted, and next moment down came a huge bunch of yellow-jacketed bananas. Dick shouted with delight, but Emmeline showed no excitement: she had discovered something.
"Sure, an' faith it's an' ould empty bar'l," said Button, wiping the sweat from his brow and staring at the thing. "Some ship must have been wathering here an' forgot it. It'll do for a sate whilst we have dinner."
He sat down upon it and distributed the bananas to the children, who sat down on the grass.
The barrel looked such a deserted and neglected thing that his imagination assumed it to be empty. Empty or full, however, it made an excellent seat, for it was quarter sunk in the green soft earth, and immovable.
"If ships has been here, ships will come again," said he, as he munched his bananas.
"Will daddy's ship come here?" asked Dick.
"Ay, to be sure it will," replied the other, taking out his pipe. "Now run about and play with the flowers an' lave me alone to smoke a pipe, and then we'll all go to the top of the hill beyant, and have a look round us.
"Come 'long, Em!" cried Dick; and the children started off amongst the trees, Dick pulling at the hanging vine tendrils, and Emmeline plucking what blossoms she could find within her small reach.
When he had finished his pipe he hallooed, and small voices answered him from the wood. Then the children came running back, Emmeline laughing and showing her small white teeth, a large bunch of blossoms in her hand; Dick flowerless, but carrying what seemed a large green stone.
"Look at what a funny thing I've found!" he cried; "it's got holes in it." "Dhrap it!" shouted Mr Button, springing from the barrel as if someone had stuck an awl into him. "Where'd you find it? What d'you mane by touchin' it? Give it here."
He took it gingerly in his hands; it was a lichen-covered skull, with a great dent in the back of it where it had been cloven by an axe or some sharp instrument. He hove it as far as he could away amidst the trees.
"What is it, Paddy?" asked Dick, half astonished, half frightened at the old man's manner.
"It's nothin' good," replied Mr Button.
"There were two others, and I wanted to fetch them," grumbled Dick.
"You lave them alone. Musha! musha! but there's been black doin's here in days gone by. What is it, Emmeline?"
Emmeline was holding out her bunch of flowers for admiration. He took a great gaudy blossom -- if flowers can ever be called gaudy- -and stuck its stalk in the pocket of his coat. Then he led the way uphill, muttering as he went.
The higher they got, the less dense became the trees and the fewer the cocoa-nut palms. The cocoa-nut palm loves the sea, and the few they had here all had their heads bent in the direction of the lagoon, as if yearning after it.
They passed a cane-brake where canes twenty feet high whispered together like bulrushes. Then a sunlit sward, destitute of tree or shrub, led them sharply upward for a hundred feet or so to where a great rock, the highest point of the island, stood, casting its shadow in the sunshine. The rock was about twenty feet high, and easy to climb. Its top was almost flat, and as spacious as an ordinary dinner-table. From it one could obtain a complete view of the island and the sea.
Looking down, one's eye travelled over the trembling and waving tree-tops, to the lagoon; beyond the lagoon to the reef, beyond the reef to the infinite-space of the Pacific. The reef encircled the whole island, here further from the land, here closer; the song of the surf on it came as a whisper, just like the whisper you hear in a shell; but, a strange thing, though the sound heard on the beach was continuous, up here one could distinguish an intermittency as breaker after breaker dashed itself to death on the coral strand below.
You have seen a field of green barley ruffled over by the wind, just so from the hill-top you could see the wind in its passage over the sunlit foliage beneath.
It was breezing up from the south-west, and banyan and cocoa- palm, artu and breadfruit tree, swayed and rocked in the merry wind.
So bright and moving was the picture of the breeze-swept sea, the blue lagoon, the foam-dashed reef, and the rocking trees that one felt one had surprised some mysterious gala day, some festival of Nature more than ordinarily glad.
As if to strengthen the idea, now and then above the trees would burst what seemed a rocket of coloured stars. The stars would drift away in a flock on the wind and be lost. They were flights of birds. All-coloured birds peopled the trees below blue, scarlet, dove-coloured, bright of eye, but voiceless. From the reef you could see occasionally the seagulls rising here and there in clouds like small puffs of smoke.
The lagoon, here deep, here shallow, presented, according to its depth or shallowness, the colours of ultra-marine or sky. The broadest parts were the palest, because the most shallow; and here and there, in the shallows, you might see a faint tracery of coral ribs almost reaching the surface. The island at its broadest might have been three miles across. There was not a sign of house or habitation to be seen, and not a sail on the whole of the wide Pacific.
It was a strange place to be, up here. To find oneself surrounded by grass and flowers and trees, and all the kindliness of nature, to feel the breeze blow, to smoke one's pipe, and to remember that one was in a place uninhabited and unknown. A place to which no messages were ever carried except by the wind or the sea- gulls.
In this solitude the beetle was as carefully painted and the flower as carefully tended as though all the peoples of the civilised world were standing by to criticise or approve.
Nowhere in the world, perhaps, so well as here, could you appreciate Nature's splendid indifference to the great affairs of Man.
The old sailor was thinking nothing of this sort. His eyes were fixed on a small and almost imperceptible stain on the horizon to the sou'-sou'-west. It was no doubt another island almost hull- down on the horizon. Save for this blemish the whole wheel of the sea was empty and serene.
Emmeline had not followed them up to the rock. She had gone botanising where some bushes displayed great bunches of the crimson arita berries as if to show to the sun what Earth could do in the way of manufacturing poison. She plucked two great bunches of them, and with this treasure came to the base of the rock.
"Lave thim berries down!" cried Mr Button, when she had attracted his attention. "Don't put thim in your mouth; thim's the never-wake-up berries."
He came down off the rock, hand over fist, flung the poisonous things away, and looked into Emmeline's small mouth, which at his command she opened wide. There was only a little pink tongue in it, however, curled up like a rose-leaf; no sign of berries or poison. So, giving her a little shake, just as a nursemaid would have done in like circumstances, he took Dick off the rock, and led the way back to the beach.
They had been questioning him about the "never-wake- up" berries.
"Who said they didn't?" asked Mr Button.
"I mean," said Emmeline, "they go to sleep and never wake up again. Ours did. It had stripes on it, and a white chest, and rings all down its tail. It went asleep in the garden, all stretched out, and showing its teeth; an' I told Jane, and Dicky ran in an' told uncle. I went to Mrs Sims, the doctor's wife, to tea; and when I came back I asked Jane where pussy was and she said it was deadn' berried, but I wasn't to tell uncle."
"I remember," said Dick. "It was the day I went to the circus, and you told me not to tell daddy the cat was deadn' berried. But I told Mrs James's man when he came to do the garden; and I asked him where cats went when they were deadn' berried, and he said he guessed they went to hell -- at least he hoped they did, for they were always scratchin' up the flowers. Then he told me not to tell anyone he'd said that, for it was a swear word, and he oughtn't to have said it. I asked him what he'd give me if I didn't tell, an' he gave me five cents. That was the day I bought the cocoa- nut."
The tent, a makeshift affair, consisting of two sculls and a tree branch, which Mr Button had sawed off from a dwarf aoa, and the staysail he had brought from the brig, was pitched in the centre of the beach, so as to be out of the way of falling cocoa- nuts, should the breeze strengthen during the night. The sun had set, but the moon had not yet risen as they sat in the starlight on the sand near the temporary abode.
"What's the things you said made the boots for the people, Paddy?" asked Dick, after a pause.
"You said in the wood I wasn't to talk, else -- "
"Oh, the Cluricaunes -- the little men that cobbles the Good People's brogues. Is it them you mane?"
"Yes," said Dick, not knowing quite whether it was them or not that he meant, but anxious for information that he felt would be curious. "And what are the good people?"
"Sure, where were you born and bred that you don't know the Good People is the other name for the fairies -- savin' their presence?"
"There aren't any," replied Dick. "Mrs Sims said there weren't."
"Mrs James," put in Emmeline, "said there were. She said she liked to see children b'lieve in fairies. She was talking to another lady, who'd got a red feather in her bonnet, and a fur muff. They were having tea, and I was sitting on the hearthrug. She said the world was getting too -- something or another, an' then the other lady said it was, and asked Mrs James did she see Mrs Someone in the awful hat she wore Thanksgiving Day. They didn't say anything more about fairies, but Mrs James -- "
"Whether you b'lave in them or not," said Paddy, "there they are. An' maybe they're poppin' out of the wood behint us now, an' listenin' to us talkin'; though I'm doubtful if there's any in these parts, though down in Connaught they were as thick as blackberries in the ould days. O musha! musha! The ould days, the ould days! when will I be seein' thim again? Now, you may b'lave me or b'lave me not, but me own ould father -- God rest his sowl! was comin' over Croagh Patrick one night before Christmas with a bottle of whisky in one hand of him, and a goose, plucked an' claned an' all, in the other, which same he'd won in a lottery, when, hearin' a tchune no louder than the buzzin' of a bee, over a furze-bush he peeps, and there, round a big white stone, the Good People were dancing in a ring hand in hand, an' kickin' their heels, an' the eyes of them glowin' like the eyes of moths; and a chap on the stone, no bigger than the joint of your thumb, playin' to thim on a bagpipes. Wid that he let wan yell an' drops the goose an' makes for home, over hedge an' ditch, boundin' like a buck kangaroo, an' the face on him as white as flour when he burst in through the door, where we was all sittin' round the fire burnin' chestnuts to see who'd be married the first.
"`An' what in the name of the saints is the mather wid yiz?' says me mother.
"`I've sane the Good People,' says he, `up on the field beyant,' says he; `and they've got the goose,' says he, `but, begorra, I've saved .the bottle,' he says. "Dhraw the cork and give me a taste of it, for me heart's in me throat, and me tongue's like a brick- kil.'
"An' whin we come to prize the cork out of the bottle, there was nothin' in it; an' whin we went next marnin' to look for the goose, it was gone. But there was the stone, sure enough, and the marks on it of the little brogues of the chap that'd played the bagpipes and who'd be doubtin' there were fairies after that?"
The children said nothing for a while, and then Dick said:
"Tell us about Cluricaunes, and how they make the boots."
"Whin I'm tellin' you about Cluricaunes," said Mr Button, "it's the truth I'm tellin' you, an' out of me own knowlidge, for I've spoke to a man that's held wan in his hand; he was me own mother's brother, Con Cogan -- rest his sowl! Con was six fut two, wid a long, white face; he'd had his head bashed in, years before I was barn, in some ruction or other, an' the docthers had japanned him with a five-shillin' piece beat flat."
Dick interposed with a question as to the process, aim, and object of japanning, but Mr Button passed the question by.
"He'd been bad enough for seein' fairies before they japanned him, but afther it, begorra, he was twiced as bad. I was a slip of a lad at the time, but me hair near turned grey wid the tales he'd tell of the Good People and their doin's. One night they'd turn him into a harse an' ride him half over the county, wan chap on his back an' another runnin' behind, shovin' furze prickles under his tail to make him buck-lep. Another night it's a dunkey he'd be, harnessed to a little cart, an' bein' kicked in the belly and made to draw stones. Thin it's a goose he'd be, runnin' over the common wid his neck stritched out squawkin', an' an old fairy woman afther him wid a knife, till it fair drove him to the dhrink; though, by the same token, he didn't want much dhrivin'.
"And what does he do when his money was gone, but tear the five- shillin' piece they'd japanned him wid aff the top of his hed, and swaps it for a bottle of whisky, and that was the end of him."
Mr Button paused to relight his pipe, which had gone out, and there was silence for a moment.
The moon had risen, and the song of the surf on the reef filled the whole night with its lullaby. The broad lagoon lay waving and rippling in the moonlight to the incoming tide. Twice as broad it always looked seen by moonlight or starlight than when seen by day. Occasionally the splash of a great fish would cross the silence, and the ripple of it wouId pass a moment later across the placid water.
Big things happened in the lagoon at night, unseen by eyes from the shore. You would have found the wood behind them, had you walked through it, full of light. A tropic forest under a tropic moon is green as a sea cave. You can see the vine tendrils and the flowers, the orchids and tree boles all lit as by the light of an emerald-tinted day.
Mr Button took a long piece of string from his pocket.
"It's bedtime," said he; "and I'm going to tether Em'leen, for fear she'd be walkin' in her slape, and wandherin' away an' bein' lost in the woods."
"I don't want to be tethered," said E mmeIine.
"It's for your own good I'm doin' it," replied Mr Button, fixing the string round her waist. "Now come 'long."
He led her like a dog in a leash to the tent, and tied the other end of the string to the scull, which was the tent's main prop and support.
"Now," said he, "if you be gettin' up and walkin' about in the night, it's down the tint will be on top of us all."
And, sure enough, in the small hours of the morning, it was.
Dick was darting about naked on the sand, Mr Button after him with a pair of small trousers in his hand. A crab might just as well have attempted to chase an antelope.
They had been on the island a fortnight, and Dick had discovered the keenest joy in life to be naked. To be naked and wallow in the shallows of the lagoon, to be naked and sit drying in the sun. To be free from the curse of clothes, to shed civilisation on the beach in the form of breeches, boots, coat, and hat, and to be one with the wind and the sun and the sea.
The very first command Mr Button had given on the second morning of their arrival was, "Strip and into the water wid you."
Dick had resisted at first, and Emmeline (who rarely wept) had stood weeping in her little chemise. But Mr Button was obdurate. The difficulty at first was to get them in; the difficulty now was to keep them out.
Emmeline was sitting as nude as the day star, drying in the morning sun after her dip, and watching Dick's evolutions on the sand.
The lagoon had for the children far more attraction than the land. Woods where you might knock ripe bananas off the trees with a big cane, sands where golden lizards would scuttle about so tame that you might with a little caution seize them by the tail, a hill- top from whence you might see, to use Paddy's expression, "to the back of beyond"; all these were fine enough in their way, but they were nothing to the lagoon.
Deep down where the coral branches were you might watch, whilst Paddy fished, all sorts of things disporting on the sand patches and between the coral tufts. Hermit crabs that had evicted whelks, wearing the evicted ones' shells -- an obvious misfit; sea anemones as big as roses. Flowers that closed up in an irritable manner if you lowered the hook gently down and touched them; extraordinary shells that walked about on feelers, elbowing the crabs out of the way and terrorising the whelks. The overlords of the sand patches, these; yet touch one on the back with a stone tied to a bit of string, and down he would go flat, motionless and feigning death. There was a lot of human nature lurking in the depths of the lagoon, comedy and tragedy.
An English rock-pool has its marvels. You can fancy the marvels of this vast rock-pool, nine miles round and varying from a third to half a mile broad, swarming with tropic life and flights of painted fishes; where the glittering albicore passed beneath the boat like a fire and a shadow; where the boat's reflection lay as clear on the bottom as though the water were air; where the sea, pacified by the reef, told, like a little child, its dreams.
It suited the lazy humour of Mr Button that he never pursued the lagoon more than half a mile or so on either side of the beach. He would bring the fish he caught ashore, and with the aid of his tinder box and dead sticks make a blazing fire on the sand; cook fish and breadfruit and taro roots, helped and hindered by the children. They fixed the tent amidst the trees at the edge of the chapparel, and made it larger and more abiding with the aid of the dinghy's sail.
Amidst these occupations, wonders, and pleasures, the children lost all count of the flight of time. They rarely asked about Mr Lestrange; after a while they did'nt ask about him at all. Children soon forget.
After a month on the island you might have seen Dick at one moment full of life and activity, helping Mr Button to dig up a taro root or what-not, the next curled up to sleep like a dog. E mmeline the same. Profound and prolonged lapses into sleep; sudden awakenings into a world of pure air and dazzling light, the gaiety of colour all round. Nature had indeed opened her doors to these children.
One might have fancied her in an experimental mood, saying: "Let me put these buds of civilisation back into my nursery and see what they will become -- how they will blossom, and what will be the end of it all."
Just as Emmeline had brought away her treasured box from the Northumberland, Dick had conveyed with him a small linen bag that chinked when shaken. It contained marbles. Small olive- green marbles and middle-sized ones of various colours; glass marbles with splendid coloured cores; and one large old grandfather marble too big to be played with, but none the less to be worshipped -- a god marble.
Of course one cannot play at marbles on board ship, but one can play WITH them. They had been a great comfort to Dick on the voyage. He knew them each personally, and he would roll them out on the mattress of his bunk and review them nearly every day, whilst Emmeline looked on.
One day Mr Button, noticing Dick and the girl kneeling opposite each other on a flat, hard piece of sand near the water's edge, strolled up to see what they were doing. They were playing marbles. He stood with his hands in his pockets and his pipe in his mouth watching and criticising the game, pleased that the "childer" were amused. Then he began to be amused himself, and in a few minutes more he was down on his knees taking a hand; Emmeline, a poor player and an unenthusiastic one, withdrawing in his favour.
After that it was a common thing to see them playing together, the old sailor on his knees, one eye shut, and a marble against the nail of his horny thumb taking aim; Dick and Emmeline on the watch to make sure he was playing fair, their shrill voices echoing amidst the cocoa-nut trees with cries of "Knuckle down, Paddy, knuckle down!" He entered into all their amusements just as one of themselves. On high and rare occasions Emmeline would open her precious box, spread its contents and give a tea- party, Mr Button acting as guest or president as the case might be.
"Is your tay to your likin', ma'am?" he would enquire; and Emmeline, sipping at her tiny cup, would invariably make answer: "Another lump of sugar, if you please, Mr Button"; to which would come the stereotyped reply: "Take a dozen, and welcome; and another cup for the good of your make."
Then Emmeline would wash the things in imaginary water, replace them in the box, and every one would lose their company manners and become quite natural again.
"Have you ever seen your name, Paddy?" asked Dick one morning.
"Seen me which?"
"Arrah, don't be axin' me questions," replied the other. "How the divil could I see me name
"Wait and I'll show you," replied Dick.
He ran and fetched a piece of cane, and a minute later on the salt- white sand in face of orthography and the sun appeared these portentous letters:
B U T T E N
"Faith, an' it's a cliver boy y'are," said Mr Button admiringly, as he leaned luxuriously against a cocoa-nut tree, and contemplated Dick's handiwork. "And that's me name, is it? What's the letters in it?"
Dick enumerated them.
"I'll teach you to do it, too," he said. "I'll teach you to write your name, Paddy -- would you like to write your name, Paddy?"
"No," replied the other, who only wanted to be let smoke his pipe in peace; "me name's no use to me."
But Dick, with the terrible gadfly tirelessness of childhood, was not to be put off, and the unfortunate Mr Button had to go to school despite himself. In a few days he could achieve the act of drawing upon the sand characters somewhat like the above, but not without prompting, Dick and Emmeline on each side of him, breathless for fear of a mistake.
"Which next?" would ask the sweating scribe, the perspiration pouring from his forehead -- "which next? An' be quick, for it's moithered I am."
"N. N -- that's right. Ow, you're making it crooked! -- THAT'S right -- there! it's all there now -- Hurroo!"
"Hurroo!" would answer the scholar, waving his old hat over his own name, and "Hurroo!" would answer the cocoa-nut grove echoes; whilst the far, faint "Hi, hi!" of the wheeling gulls on the reef would come over the blue lagoon as if in acknowledgment of the deed, and encouragement.
The appetite comes with teaching. The pleasantest mental exercise of childhood is the instruction of one's elders. Even Emmeline felt this. She took the geography class one day in a timid manner, putting her little hand first in the great horny fist of her friend.
"I know g'ography."
"And what's that?" asked Mr Button.
This stumped Emmeline for a moment.
"It's where places are," she said at last.
"Which places?" enquired he.
"All sorts of places," replied Emmeline. "Mr Button!"
"What is it, darlin'?"
"Would you like to learn g'ography?"
"I'm not wishful for larnin'," said the other hurriedly. "It makes me head buzz to hear them things they rade out of books."
"Paddy," said Dick, who was strong on drawing that afternoon, "look here." He drew the following on the sand:
[a bad drawing of an elephant]
"That's an elephant," he said in a dubious voice.
Mr Button grunted, and the sound was by no means filled with enthusiastic assent. A chill fell on the proceedings.
Dick wiped the elephant slowly and regretfully out, whilst Emmeline felt disheartened. Then her face suddenly cleared; the seraphic smile came into it for a moment -- a bright idea had struck her.
"Dicky," she said, "draw Henry the Eight."
Dick's face brightened. He cleared the sand and drew the following figure:
l l <[ ]> / \
"THAT'S not Henry the Eight," he explained, "but he will be in a minute. Daddy showed me how to draw him; he's nothing till he gets his hat on."
"Put his hat on, put his hat on!" implored Emmeline, gazing alternately from the figure on the sand to Mr Button's face, watching for the delighted smile with which she was sure the old man would greet the great king when he appeared in all his glory.
Then Dick with a single stroke of the cane put Henry's hat on.
Now no portrait could be liker to his monk-hunting majesty than the above, created with one stroke of a cane (so to speak), yet Mr Button remained unmoved.
"I did it for Mrs Sims," said Dick regretfully, "and she said it was the image of him."
"Maybe the hat's not big enough," said Emmeline, turning her head from side to side as she gazed at the picture. It looked right, but she felt there must be something wrong, as Mr Button did not applaud. Has not every true artist felt the same before the silence of some critic?
Mr Button tapped the ashes out of his pipe and rose to stretch himself, and the class rose and trooped down to.the lagoon edge, leaving Henry and his hat a figure on the sand to be obliterated by the wind.
After a while, as time went on, Mr Button took to his lessons as a matter of course, the small inventions of the children assisting their utterly untrustworthy knowledge. Knowledge, perhaps, as useful as any other there amidst the lovely poetry of the palm trees and the sky.
Days slipped into weeks, and weeks into months, without the appearance of a ship -- a fact which gave Mr Button very little trouble; and even less to his charges, who were far too busy and amused to bother about ships.
The rainy season came on them with a rush, and at the words "rainy season" do not conjure up in your mind the vision of a rainy day in Manchester.
The rainy season here was quite a lively time. Torrential showers followed by bursts of sunshine, rainbows, and rain-dogs in the sky, and the delicious perfume of all manner of growing things on the earth.
After the rains the old sailor said he'd be after making a house of bamboos before the next rains came on them; but, maybe, before that they'd be off the island.
"However," said he, "I'll dra' you a picture of what it'll be like when it's up;" and on the sand he drew a figure like this:
Having thus drawn the plans of the building, he leaned back against a cocoa-palm and lit his pipe. But he had reckoned without Dick.
The boy had not the least wish to live in a house, but he had a keen desire to see one built, and help to build one. The ingenuity which is part of the multiform basis of the American nature was aroused.
"How're you going to keep them from slipping, if you tie them together like that?" he asked, when Paddy had more fully explained his method.
"Which from slippin'?"
"The canes -- one from the other?"
"After you've fixed thim, one cross t'other, you drive a nail through the cross-piece and a rope over all."
"Have you any nails, Paddy?"
"No," said Mr Button, "I haven't."
"Then how're you goin' to build the house?"
"Ax me no questions now; I want to smoke me pipe."
But he had raised a devil difficult to lay. Morning, noon, and night it was "Paddy, when are you going to begin the house?" or, "Paddy, I guess I've got a way to make the canes stick together without nailing." Till Mr Button, in despair, like a beaver, began to build.
There was great cane-cutting in the canebrake above, and, when sufficient had been procured, Mr Button struck work for three days. He would have struck altogether, but he had found a taskmaster.
The tireless Dick, young and active, with no original laziness in his composition, no old bones to rest, or pipe to smoke, kept after him like a bluebottle fly. It was in vain that he tried to stave him off with stories about fairies and Cluricaunes. Dick wanted to build a house.
Mr Button didn't. He wanted to rest. He did not mind fishing or climbing a cocoa-nut tree, which he did to admiration by passing a rope round himself and the tree, knotting it, and using it as a support during the climb; but house-building was monotonous work.
He said he had no nails. Dick countered by showing how the canes could be held together by notching them.
"And, faith, but it's a cliver boy you are," said the weary one admiringly, when the other had explained his method.
"Then come along, Paddy, and stick 'em up."
Mr Button said he had no rope, that he'd have to think about it, that to-morrow or next day he'd be after getting some notion how to do it without rope. But Dick pointed out that the brown cloth which Nature has wrapped round the cocoa-palm stalks would do instead of rope if cut in strips. Then the badgered one gave in.
They laboured for a fortnight at the thing, and at the end of that time had produced a rough sort of wigwam on the borders of the chapparel.
Out on the reef, to which they often rowed in the dinghy, when the tide was low, deep pools would be left, and in the pools fish. Paddy said if they had a spear they might be able to spear some of these fish, as he had seen the natives do away "beyant" in Tahiti.
Dick enquired as to the nature of a spear, and next day produced a ten-foot cane sharpened at the end after the fashion of a quill pen.
"Sure, what's the use of that?" said Mr Button. "You might job it into a fish, but he'd be aff it in two ticks; it's the barb that holds them."
Next day the indefatigable one produced the cane amended; he had whittled it down about three feet from the end and on one side, and carved a fairly efficient barb. It was good enough, at all events, to spear a "groper" with, that evening, in the sunset-lit pools of the reef at low tide.
"There aren't any potatoes here," said Dick one day, after the second rains.
"We've et 'em all months ago," replied Paddy.
"How do potatoes grow?" enquired Dick.
"Grow, is it? Why, they grow in the ground; and where else would they grow?" He explained the process of potato- planting: cutting them into pieces so that there was an eye in each piece, and so forth. "Having done this," said Mr Button, "you just chuck the pieces in the ground; their eyes grow, green leaves `pop up,' and then, if you dug the roots up maybe, six months after, you'd find bushels of potatoes in the ground, ones as big as your head, and weeny ones. It's like a famiIy of childer -- some's big and some's little. But there they are in the ground, and all you have to do is to take a fark and dig a potful of them with a turn of your wrist, as many a time I've done it in the ould days."
"Why didn't we do that?" asked Dick.
"Do what?" asked Mr Button.
"Plant some of the potatoes."
"And where'd we have found the spade to plant them with?"
"I guess we could have fixed up a spade," replied the boy. "I made a spade at home, out of a piece of old board once -- daddy helped."
"Well, skelp off with you, and make a spade now," replied the other, who wanted to be quiet and think, "and you and Em'line can dig in the sand."
Emmeline was sitting nearby, stringing together some gorgeous blossoms on a tendril of liana. Months of sun and ozone had made a considerable difference in the child. She was as brown as a gipsy and freckled, not very much taller, but twice as plump. Her eyes had lost considerably that look as though she were contemplating futurity and immensity -- not as abstractions, but as concrete images, and she had lost the habit of sleep-walking.
The shock of the tent coming down on the first night she was tethered to the scull had broken her of it, helped by the new healthful conditions of life, the sea-bathing, and the eternal open air. There is no narcotic to excel fresh air.
Months of semi-savagery had made also a good deal of difference in Dick's appearance. He was two inches taller than on the day they landed. Freckled and tanned, he had the appearance of a boy of twelve. He was the promise of a fine man. He was not a good -- looking child, but he was healthy-looking, with a jolly laugh, and a daring, almost impudent expression of face.
The question of the children's clothes was beginning to vex the mind of the old sailor. The climate was a suit of clothes in itself. One was much happier with almost nothing on. Of course there were changes of temperature, but they were slight. Eternal summer, broken by torrential rains, and occasionally a storm, that was the climate of the island; still, the "childer" couldn't go about with nothing on.
He took some of the striped flannel and made Emmeline a kilt. It was funny to see him sitting on the sand, Emmeline standing before him with her garment round her waist, being tried on; he, with a mouthful of pins, and the housewife with the scissors, needles, and thread by his side.
"Turn to the lift a bit more," he'd say, "aisy does it. Stidy so -- musha! musha! where's thim scissors? Dick, be holdin' the end of this bit of string till I get the stitches in behint. Does that hang comfortable? well, an' you're the trouble an' all. How's THAT? That's aisier, is it? Lift your fut till I see if it comes to your knees. Now off with it, and lave me alone till I stitch the tags to it."
It was the mixture of a skirt and the idea of a sail, for it had two rows of reef points; a most ingenious idea, as it could be reefed if the child wanted to go paddling, or in windy weather.
"Paddy," he cried to the old man, who was fixing a hook on a fishing-line, "there's a ship!"
It did not take Mr Button long to reach the hill-top, and there she was, beating up for the island. Bluff-bowed and squab, the figure of an old Dutch woman, and telling of her trade a league off. It was just after the rains, the sky was not yet quite clear of clouds; you could see showers away at sea, and the sea was green and foam-capped.
There was the trying-out gear; there were the boats, the crow's nest, and all complete, and labelling her a whaler. She was a ship, no doubt, but Paddy Button would as soon have gone on board a ship manned by devils, and captained by Lucifer, as on board a South Sea whaleman. He had been there before, and he knew.
He hid the children under a large banyan, and told them not to stir or breathe till he came back, for the ship was "the devil's own ship"; and if the men on board caught them they'd skin them alive and all.
Then he made for the beach; he collected all the things out of the wigwam, and all the old truck in the shape of boots and old clothes, and stowed them away in the dinghy. He would have destroyed the house, if he could, but he hadn't time. Then he rowed the dinghy a hundred yards down the lagoon to the left, and moored her under the shade of an aoa, whose branches grew right over the water. Then he came back through the cocoa-nut grove on foot, and peered through the trees over the lagoon to see what was to be seen.
The wind was blowing dead on for the opening in the reef, and the old whaleman came along breasting the swell with her bluff bows, and entered the lagoon. There was no leadsman in her chains. She just came in as if she knew all the soundings by heart -- as probably she did -- for these whalemen know every hole and corner in the Pacific.
The anchor fell with a splash, and she swung to it, making a strange enough picture as she floated on the blue mirror, backed by the graceful palm tree on the reef. Then Mr Button, without waiting to see the boats lowered, made back to his charges, and the three camped in the woods that night.
Next morning the whaleman was off and away, leaving as a token of her visit the white sand all trampled, an empty bottle, half an old newspaper, and the wigwam torn to pieces.
The old sailor cursed her and her crew, for the incident had brought a new exercise into his lazy life. Every day now at noon he had to climb the hill, on the look-out for whalemen. Whalemen haunted his dreams, though I doubt if he would willingly have gone on board even a Royal Mail steamer. He was quite happy where he was. After long years of the fo'cs'le the island was a change indeed. He had tobacco enough to last him for an indefinite time, the children for companions, and food at his elbow. He would have been entirely happy if the island had only been supplied by Nature with a public-house.
The spirit of hilarity and good fellowship, however, who suddenly discovered this error on the part of Nature, rectified it, as will be presently seen.
The most disastrous result of the whaleman's visit was not the destruction of the "house," but the disappearance of Emmeline's box. Hunt high or hunt low, it could not be found. Mr Button in his hurry must have forgotten it when he removed the things to the dinghy -- at all events, it was gone. Probably one of the crew of the whalemen had found it and carried it off with him; no one could say. It was gone, and there was the end of the matter, and the beginning of great tribulation, that lasted Emmeline for a week.
She was intensely fond of coloured things, coloured flowers especially; and she had the prettiest way of making them into a wreath for her own or someone else's head. It was the hat- making instinct that was at work in her, perhaps; at all events, it was a feminine instinct, for Dick made no wreaths.
One morning, as she was sitting by the old sailor engaged in stringing shells, Dick came running along the edge of the grove. He had just come out of the wood, and he seemed to be looking for something. Then he found what he was in search of -- a big shell -- and with it in his hand made back to the wood.
Item. -- His dress was a piece of cocoa-nut cloth tied round his middle. Why he wore it at all, goodness knows, for he would as often as not be running about stark naked.
"I've found something, Paddy!" he cried, as he disappeared among the trees.
"What have you found?" piped Emmeline, who was always interested in new things.
"Something funny!" came back from amidst the trees.
Presently he returned; but he was not running now. He was walking slowly and carefully, holding the shell as if it contained something precious that he was afraid would escape.
"Paddy, I turned over the old barrel and it had a cork thing in it, and I pulled it out, and the barrel is full of awfully funny- smelling stuff -- I've brought some for you to see."
He gave the shell into the old sailor's hands. There was about half a gill of yellow liquid in the shell. Paddy smelt it, tasted, and gave a shout.
"What is it, Paddy?" asked Emmeline.
"WHERE did you say you got it -- in the ould bar'l, did you say?" asked Mr Button, who seemed dazed and stunned as if by a blow.
"Yes; I pulled the cork thing out -- "
"DID YIZ PUT IT BACK?"
"Oh, glory be to God! Here have I been, time out of mind, sittin' on an ould empty bar'l, with me tongue hangin' down to me heels for the want of a drink, and it full of rum all the while!"
He took a sip of the stuff, tossed the lot off, closed his lips tight to keep in the fumes, and shut one eye.
Mr Button scrambled to his feet. They followed him through the chapparel till they reached the water source. There lay the little green barrel; turned over by the restless Dick, it lay with its bung pointing to the leaves above. You could see the hollow it had made in the soft soil during the years. So green was it, and so like an object of nature, a bit of old tree-bole, or a lichen- stained boulder, that though the whalemen had actually watered from the source, its real nature had not been discovered.
Mr Button tapped on it with the butt-end of the shell: it was nearly full. Why it had been left there, by whom, or how, there was no one to tell. The old lichen-covered skulls might have told, could they have spoken.
"We'll rowl it down to the beach," said Paddy, when he had taken another taste of it.
He gave Dick a sip. The boy spat it out, and made a face, then, pushing the barrel before them, they began to roll it downhill to the beach, Emmeline running before them crowned with flowers.
The rum had been good originally, and age had improved it. Used as he was to the appalling balloon juice sold in the drinking dens of the "Barbary coast" at San Francisco, or the public-houses of the docks, this stuff was nectar.
Joviality radiated from him: it was infectious. The children felt that some happy influence had fallen upon their friend. Usually after dinner he was drowsy and "wishful to be quiet." To-day he told them stories of the sea, and sang them songs -- chantys:
"I'm a flyin' fish sailor come back from Hong Kong, Yeo ho! blow the man down. Blow the man down, bullies, blow the man down, Oh, give us TIME to blow the man down. You're a dirty black-baller come back from New York, Yeo ho! blow the man down, Blow the man down, bullies, blow the man down. Oh, give us time to blow the man down."
"Oh, give us TIME to blow the man down!" echoed Dick and Emmeline.
Up above, in the trees, the bright-eyed birds were watching them- -such a happy party. They had all the appearance of picnickers, and the song echoed amongst the cocoa-nut trees, and the wind carried it over the lagoon to where the sea-gulls were wheeling and screaming, and the foam was thundering on the reef.
That evening, Mr Button feeling inclined for joviality, and not wishing the children to see him under the influence, rolled the barrel through the cocoa-nut grove to a little clearing by the edge of the water. There, when the children were in bed and asleep, he repaired with some green cocoa-nuts and a shell. He was generally musical when amusing himself in this fashion, and Emmeline, waking up during the night, heard his voice borne through the moonlit cocoa-nut grove by the wind:
"There were five or six old drunken sailors Standin' before the bar, And Larry, he was servin' them From a big five-gallon jar.
"Chorus. -- Hoist up the flag, long may it wave! Long may it lade us to glory or the grave. Stidy, boys, stidy -- sound the jubilee, For Babylon has fallen, and the slaves are all set free."
Next morning the musician awoke beside the cask. He had not a trace of a headache, or any bad feeling, but he made Dick do the cooking; and he lay in the shade of the cocoa-nut trees, with his head on a "pilla" made out of an old coat rolled up, twiddling his thumbs, smoking his pipe, and discoursing about the "ould" days, half to himself and half to his companions.
That night he had another musical evening all to himself, and so it went on for a week. Then he began to lose his appetite and sleep; and one morning Dick found him sitting on the sand looking very queer indeed -- as well he might, for he had been "seeing things" since dawn.
"What is it, Paddy?" said the boy, running up, followed by Emmeline.
Mr Button was staring at a point on the sand close by. He had his right hand raised after the manner of a person who is trying to catch a fly. Suddenly he made a grab at the sand, and then opened his hand wide to see what he had caught.
"What is it, Paddy?"
"The Cluricaune," replied Mr Button. "All dressed in green he was- -musha! musha! but it's only pretindin' I am."
The complaint from which he was suffering has this strange thing about it, that, though the patient sees rats, or snakes, or what- not, as real-looking as the real things, and though they possess his mind for a moment, almost immediately he recognises that he is suffering from a delusion.
The children laughed, and Mr Button laughed in a stupid sort of way.
"Sure, it was only a game I was playin' -- there was no Cluricaune at all -- it's whin I dhrink rum it puts it into me head to play games like that. Oh, be the Holy Poker, there's red rats comin' out of the sand!"
He got on his hands and knees and scuttle off towards the cocoa- nut trees, looking over his shoulder with a bewildered expression on his face. He would have risen to fly, only he dared not stand up.
The children laughed and danced round him as he crawled.
"Look at the rats, Paddy! look at the rats!" cried Dick.
"They're in front of me!" cried the afflicted one, making a vicious grab at an imaginary rodent's tail. "Ran dan the bastes! now they're gone. Musha, but it's a fool I'm makin' of meself."
"Go on, Paddy," said Dick; "don't stop. Look there -- there's more rats coming after you!"
"Oh, whisht, will you?" replied Paddy, taking his seat on the sand, and wiping his brow. "They're aff me now."
The children stood by, disappointed of their game. Good acting appeals to children just as much as to grown-up people. They stood waiting for another excess of humour to take the comedian, and they had not to wait long.
A thing like a flayed horse came out of the lagoon and up the beach, and this time Button did not crawl away. He got on his feet and ran.
"It's a harse that's afther me -- it's a harse that's afther me! Dick! Dick! hit him a skelp. Dick! Dick! dhrive him away."
"Hurroo! Hurroo!" cried Dick, chasing the afflicted one, who was running in a wide circle, his broad red face slewed over his left shoulder. "Go it, Paddy! go it, Paddy!"
"Kape off me, you baste!" shouted Paddy. "Holy Mary, Mother of God! I'll land you a kick wid me fut if yiz come nigh me. Em'leen! Em'leen! come betune us!"
He tripped, and over he went on the sand, the indefatigable Dick beating him with a little switch he had picked up to make him continue.
"I'm better now, but I'm near wore out," said Mr Button, sitting up on the sand. "But, bedad, if I'm chased by any more things like them it's into the say I'll be dashin'. Dick, lend me your arum."
He took Dick's arm and wandered over to the shade of the trees. Here he threw himself down, and told the children to leave him to sleep. They recognised that the game was over and left him. And he slept for six hours on end; it was the first real sleep he had had for several days. When he awoke he was well, but very shaky.
"It's a baste I've been," said the repentant one, "a brute baste."
He was quite wrong; as a matter of fact, he was only a man beset and betrayed.
He stood for a while, cursing the drink, "and them that sells it." Then he determined to put himself out of the way of temptation. Pull the bung out of the barrel, and let the contents escape?
Such a thought never even occurred to him -- or, if it did, was instantly dismissed; for, though an old sailor-man may curse the drink, good rum is to him a sacred thing; and to empty half a little barrel of it into the sea, would be an act almost equivalent to child-murder. He put the cask into the dinghy, and rowed it over to the reef. There he placed it in the shelter of a great lump of coral, and rowed back.
Paddy had been trained all his life to rhythmical drunkenness. Four months or so had generally elapsed between his bouts -- some- times six; it all depended on the length of the voyage. Six months now elapsed before he felt even an inclination to look at the rum cask, that tiny dark spot away on the reef. And it was just as well, for during those six months another whale-ship arrived, watered and was avoided.
"Blisther it!" said he; "the say here seems to breed whale-ships, and nothin' but whaleships. It's like bugs in a bed: you kill wan, and then another comes. Howsumever, we're shut of thim for a while."
He walked down to the lagoon edge, looked at the little dark spot and whistled. Then he walked back to prepare dinner. That little dark spot began to trouble him after a while; not it, but the spirit it contained.
Days grew long and weary, the days that had been so short and pleasant. To the children there was no such thing as time. Having absolute and perfect health, they enjoyed happiness as far as mortals can enjoy it. Emmeline's highly strung nervous system, it is true, developed a headache when she had been too long in the glare of the sun, but they were few and far between.
The spirit in the little cask had been whispering across the lagoon for some weeks; at last it began to shout. Mr Button, metaphorically speaking, stopped his ears. He busied himself with the children as much as possible. He made another garment for Emmeline, and cut Dick's hair with the scissors (a job which was generally performed once in a couple of months).
One night, to keep the rum from troubling his head, he told them the story of Jack Dogherty and the Merrow, which is well known on the western coast.
The Merrow takes Jack to dinner at the bottom of the sea, and shows him the lobster pots wherein he keeps the souls of old sailormen, and then they have dinner, and the Merrow produces a big bottle of rum.
It was a fatal story for him to remember and recount; for, after his companions were asleep, the vision of the Merrow and Jack hobnobbing, and the idea of the jollity of it, rose before him, and excited a thirst for joviality not to be resisted.
There were some green cocoa-nuts that he had plucked that day lying in a little heap under a tree -- half a dozen or so. He took several of these and a shell, found the dinghy where it was moored to the aoa tree, unmoored her, and pushed off into the lagoon.
The lagoon and sky were full of stars. In the dark depths of the water might have been seen phosphorescent gleams of passing fish, and the thunder of the surf on the reef filled the night with its song.
He fixed the boat's painter carefully round a spike of coral and landed on the reef, and with a shellful of rum and cocoa-nut lemonade mixed half and half, he took his perch on a high ledge of coral from whence a view of the sea and the coral strand could be obtained.
On a moonlight night it was fine to sit here and watch the great breakers coming in, all marbled and clouded and rainbowed with spindrift and sheets of spray. But the snow and the song of them under the diffused light of the stars produced a more indescribably beautiful and strange effect.
The tide was going out now, and Mr Button, as he sat smoking his pipe and drinking his grog, could see bright mirrors here and there where the water lay in rock-pools. When he had contemplated these sights for a considerable time in complete contentment, he returned to the lagoon side of the reef and sat down beside the little barrel. Then, after a while, if you had been standing on the strand opposite, you would have heard scraps of song borne across the quivering water of the lagoon.
"Sailing down, sailing down, On the coast of Barbaree."
Whether the coast of Barbary in question is that at San Francisco, or the true and proper coast, does not matter. It is an old- time song; and when you hear it, whether on a reef of coral or a granite quay, you may feel assured that an old-time sailor-man is singing it, and that the old-time sailor-man is bemused.
Presently the dinghy put off from the reef, the sculls broke the starlit waters and great shaking circles of light made rhythmical answer to the slow and steady creak of the thole pins against the leather. He tied up to the aoa, saw that the sculls were safely shipped; then, breathing heavily, he cast off his boots for fear of waking the "childer." As the children were sleeping more than two hundred yards away, this was a needless precaution especially as the intervening distance was mostly soft sand.
Green cocoa-nut juice and rum mixed together are pleasant enough to drink, but they are better drunk separately; combined, not even the brain of an old sailor can make anything of them but mist and muddlement; that is to say, in the way of thought -- in the way of action they can make him do a lot. They made Paddy Button swim the lagoon.
The recollection came to him all at once, as he was walking up the strand towards the wigwam, that he had left the dinghy tied to the reef. The dinghy was, as a matter of fact, safe and sound tied to the aoa; but Mr Button's memory told him it was tied to the reef. How he had crossed the lagoon was of no importance at all to him; the fact that he had crossed without the boat, yet without getting wet, did not appear to him strange. He had no time to deal with trifles like these. The dinghy had to be fetched across the lagoon, and there was only one way of fetching it. So he came back down the beach to the water's edge, cast down his boots, cast off his coat, and plunged in. The lagoon was wide, but in his present state of mind he would have swum the Hellespont. His figure gone from the beach, the night resumed its majesty and aspect of meditation.
So lit was the lagoon by starshine that the head of the swimmer could be distinguished away out in the midst of circles of light; also, as the head neared the reef, a dark triangle that came shearing through water past the palm tree at the pier. It was the night patrol of the lagoon, who had heard in some mysterious manner that a drunken sailor-man was making trouble in his waters.
Looking, one listened, hand on heart, for the scream of the arrested one, yet it did not come. The swimmer, scrambling on to the reef in an exhausted manner, forgetful evidently of the object for which he had returned, made for the rum cask, and fell down beside it as though sleep had touched him instead of death.
He trod the dead stick with his naked feet, breaking it into pieces.
Emmeline sat on the sand and watched him.
Emmeline had two gods of a sort: Paddy Button and Dick. Paddy was almost an esoteric god wrapped in the fumes of tobacco and mystery. The god of rolling ships and creaking masts -- the masts and vast sail spaces of the Northumberland were an enduring vision in her mind -- the deity who had lifted her from a little boat into this marvellous place, where the birds were coloured and the fish were painted, where life was never dull, and the skies scarcely ever grey.
Dick, the other deity, was a much more understandable personage, but no less admirable, as a companion and protector. In the two years and five months of island life he had grown nearly three inches. He was as strong as a boy of twelve, and could scull the boat almost as well as Paddy himself, and light a fire. Indeed, during the last few months Mr Button, engaged in resting his bones, and contemplating rum as an abstract idea, had left the cooking and fishing and general gathering of food as much as possible to Dick.
"It amuses the craythur to pritind he's doing things," he would say, as he watched Dick delving in the earth to make a little oven -- Island-fashion -- for the cooking of fish or what-not.
"Come along, Em," said Dick, piling the broken wood on top of some rotten hibiscus sticks; "give me the tinder box."
He got a spark on to a bit of punk, and then he blew at it, looking not unlike Aeolus as represented on those old Dutch charts that smell of schiedam and snuff, and give one mermaids and angels instead of soundings.
The fire was soon sparkling and crackling, and he heaped on sticks in profusion, for there was plenty of fuel, and he wanted to cook breadfruit.
The breadfruit varies in size, according to age, and in colour according to season. These that Dick was preparing to cook were as large as small melons. Two would be more than enough for three people's breakfast. They were green and knobbly on the outside, and they suggested to the mind unripe lemons, rather than bread.
He put them in the embers, just as you put potatoes to roast, and presently they sizzled and spat little venomous jets of steam, then they cracked, and the white inner substance became visible. He cut them open and took the core out -- the core is not fit to eat -- and they were ready.
Meanwhile, Emmeline, under his directions, had not been idle.
There were in the lagoon -- there are in several other tropical lagoons I know of -- a fish which I can only describe as a golden herring. A bronze herring it looks when landed, but when swimming away down against the background of coral brains and white sand patches, it has the sheen of burnished gold. It is as good to eat as to look at, and Emmeline was carefully toasting several of them on a piece of cane.
The juice of the fish kept the cane from charring, though there were accidents at times, when a whole fish would go into the fire, amidst shouts of derision from Dick.
She made a pretty enough picture as she knelt, the "skirt" round the waist looking not unlike a striped bath-towel, her small face intent, and filled with the seriousness of the job on hand, and her lips puckered out at the heat of the fire.
"It's so hot!" she cried in self-defence, after the first of the accidents.
"Of course it's hot," said Dick, "if you stick to looward of the fire. How often has Paddy told you to keep to windward of it!"
"I don't know which is which," confessed the unfortunate Emmeline, who was an absolute failure at everything practical: who could neither row nor fish, nor throw a stone, and who, though they had now been on the island twenty-eight months or so, could not even swim.
"You mean to say," said Dick, "that you don't know where the wind comes from?"
"Yes, I know that."
"Well, that's to windward."
"I didn't know that."
"Well, you know it now."
"Yes, I know it now."
"Well, then, come to windward of the fire. Why didn't you ask the meaning of it before?"
"I did," said Emmeline; "I asked Mr Button one day, and he told me a lot about it. He said if he was to spit to windward and a person was to stand to loo'ard of him, he'd be a fool; and he said if a ship went too much to loo'ard she went on the rocks, but I didn't understand what he meant. Dicky, I wonder where he is?"
"Paddy!" cried Dick, pausing in the act of splitting open a breadfruit. Echoes came from amidst the cocoa-nut trees, but nothing more.
"Come on," said Dick; "I'm not going to wait for him. He may have gone to fetch up the night lines" -- they sometimes put down night lines in the lagoon -- "and fallen asleep over them."
Now, though Emmeline honoured Mr Button as a minor deity, Dick had no illusions at all upon the matter. He admired Paddy because he could knot, and splice, and climb a cocoanut tree, and exercise his sailor craft in other admirable ways, but he felt the old man's limitations. They ought to have had potatoes now, but they had eaten both potatoes and the possibility of potatoes when they consumed the contents of that half sack. Young as he was, Dick felt the absolute thriftlessness of this proceeding. Emmeline did not; she never thought of potatoes, though she could have told you the colour of all the birds on the island.
Then, again, the house wanted rebuilding, and Mr Button said every day he would set about seeing after it to-morrow, and on the morrow it would be to-morrow. The necessities of the life they led were a stimulus to the daring and active mind of the boy; but he was always being checked by the go-as-you-please methods of his elder. Dick came of the people who make sewing machines and typewriters. Mr Button came of a people notable for ballads, tender hearts, and potheen. That was the main difference.
"Paddy!" again cried the boy, when he had eaten as much as he wanted. "Hullo! where are you?"
They listened, but no answer came. A bright-hued bird flew across the sand space, a lizard scuttled across the glistening sand, the reef spoke, and the wind in the tree-tops; but Mr Button made no reply.
"Wait," said Dick.
He ran through the grove towards the aoa where the dinghy was moored; then he returned.
"The dinghy is all right," he said. "Where on earth can he be?"
"I don't know," said Emmeline, upon whose heart a feeling of loneliness had fallen.
"Let's go up the hill," said Dick; "perhaps we'll find him there."
They went uphill through the wood, past the water-course. Every now and then Dick would call out, and echoes would answer -- there were quaint, moist-voiced echoes amidst the trees or a bevy of birds would take flight. The little waterfall gurgled and whispered, and the great banana leaves spread their shade.
"Come on," said Dick, when he had called again without receiving a reply.
They found the hill-top, and the great boulder stood casting its shadow in the sun. The morning breeze was blowing, the sea sparkling, the reef flashing, the foliage of the island waving in the wind like the flames of a green-flamed torch. A deep swell was spreading itself across the bosom of the Pacific. Some hurricane away beyond the Navigators or Gilberts had sent this message and was finding its echo here, a thousand miles away, in the deeper thunder of the reef.
Nowhere else in the world could you get such a picture, such a combination of splendour and summer, such a vision of freshness and strength, and the delight of morning. It was the smallness of the island, perhaps, that closed the charm and made it perfect. Just a bunch of foliage and flowers set in the midst of the blowing wind and sparkling blue.
Suddenly Dick, standing beside Emmeline on the rock, pointed with his finger to the reef near the opening.
"There he is!" cried he.
"He's asleep," said Dick.
He had not thought to look towards the reef from the beach, or he might have seen the figure before.
"Dicky!" said Emmeline.
"How did he get over, if you said the dinghy was tied to the tree?"
"I don't know," said Dick, who had not thought of this; "there he is, anyhow. I'll tell you what, Em, we'll row across and wake him. I'll boo into his ear and make him jump."
They got down from the rock, and came back down through the wood. As they came Emmeline picked flowers and began making them up into one of her wreaths. Some scarlet hibiscus, some bluebells, a couple of pale poppies with furry stalks and bitter perfume.
"What are you making that for?" asked Dick, who always viewed Emmeline's wreath-making with a mixture of compassion and vague disgust.
"I'm going to put it on Mr Button's head," said Emmeline; "so's when you say boo into his ear he'll jump up with it on."
Dick chuckled with pleasure at the idea of the practical joke, and almost admitted in his own mind for a moment, that after all there might be a use for such futilities as wreaths.
The dinghy was moored under the spreading shade of the aoa, the painter tied to one of the branches that projected over the water. These dwarf aoas branch in an extraordinary way close to the ground, throwing out limbs like rails. The tree had made a good protection for the little boat, protecting it from marauding hands and from the sun; besides the protection of the tree Paddy had now and then scuttled the boat in shallow water. It was a new boat to start with, and with precautions like these might be expected to last many years.
"Get in," said Dick, pulling on the painter so that the bow of the dinghy came close to the beach.
Emmeline got carefully in, and went aft. Then Dick got in, pushed off, and took to the sculls. Next moment they were out on the sparkling water.
Dick rowed cautiously, fearing to wake the sleeper. He fastened the painter to the coral spike that seemed set there by nature for the purpose. He scrambled on to the reef, and lying down on his stomach drew the boat's gunwale close up so that Emmeline might land. He had no boots on; the soles of his feet, from constant exposure, had become insensitive as leather.
Emmeline also was without boots. The soles of her feet, as is always the case with highly nervous people, were sensitive, and she walked delicately, avoiding the worst places, holding her wreath in her right hand.
It was full tide, and the thunder of the waves outside shook the reef. It was like being in a church when the deep bass of the organ is turned full on, shaking the ground and the air, the walls and the roof. Dashes of spray came over with the wind, and the melancholy "Hi, hi!" of the wheeling gulls came like the voices of ghostly sailor-men hauling at the halyards.
Paddy was lying on his right side steeped in profound oblivion. His face was buried in the crook of his right arm, and his brown tattooed left hand lay on his left thigh, palm upwards. He had no hat, and the breeze stirred his grizzled hair.
Dick and Emmeline stole up to him till they got right beside him. Then Emmeline, flashing out a laugh, flung the little wreath of flowers on the old man's head, and Dick, popping down on his knees, shouted into his ear. But the dreamer did not stir or move a finger.
"Paddy," cried Dick, "wake up! wake up!"
He pulled at the shoulder till the figure from its sideways posture fell over on its back. The eyes were wide open and staring. The mouth hung open, and from the mouth darted a little crab; it scuttled over the chin and dropped on the coral.
Emmeline screamed, and screamed, and would have fallen, but the boy caught her in his arms -- one side of the face had been destroyed by the larvae of the rocks.
He held her to him as he stared at the terrible figure lying upon its back, hands outspread. Then, wild with terror, he dragged her towards the little boat. She was struggling, and panting and gasping, like a person drowning in ice-cold water.
His one instinct was to escape, to fly anywhere, no matter where. He dragged the girl to the coral edge, and pulled the boat up close. Had the reef suddenly become enveloped in flames he could not have exerted himself more to escape from it and save his companion. A moment later they were afloat, and he was pulling wildly for the shore.
He did not know what had happened, nor did he pause to think: he was fleeing from horror -- nameless horror; whilst the child at his feet, with her head resting against the gunwale, stared up open- eyed and speechless at the great blue sky, as if at some terror visible there. The boat grounded on the white sand, and the wash of the incoming tide drove it up sideways.
Emmeline had fallen forward; she had lost consciousness.
They did not speak about him. Something had been done to him; something had happened. Something terrible had happened to the wor]d they knew. But they dared not speak of it or question each other.
Dick had carried his companion to the hut when he left the boat, and hidden with her there; the evening had come on, and the night, and now in the darkness, without having tasted food all day, he was telling her not to be afraid, that he would take care of her. But not a word of the thing that had happened.
The thing, for them, had no precedent, and no vocabulary. They had come across death raw and real, uncooked by religion, un- deodorised by the sayings of sages and poets.
They knew nothing of the philosophy that tells us that death is the common lot, and the natural sequence to birth, or the religion that teaches us that Death is the door to Life.
A dead old sailor-man lying like a festering carcass on a coral ledge, eyes staring and glazed and fixed, a wide-open mouth that once had spoken comforting words, and now spoke living crabs.
That was the vision before them. They did not philosophise about it; and though they were filled with terror, I do not think it was terror that held them from speaking about it, but a vague feeling that what they had beheld was obscene, unspeakable, and a thing to avoid.
Lestrange had brought them up in his own way. He had told them there was a good God who looked after the world; determined as far as he could to exclude demonology and sin and death from their knowledge, he had rested content with the bald statement that there was a good God who looked after the world, without explaining fully that the same God would torture them for ever and ever, should they fail to believe in Him or keep His commandments.
This knowledge of the Almighty, therefore, was but a half knowledge, the vaguest abstraction. Had they been brought up, however, in the most strictly Calvinistic school, this knowledge of Him would have been no comfort now. Belief in God is no comfort to a frightened child. Teach him as many parrot-like prayers as you please, and in distress or the dark of what use are they to him? His cry is for his nurse, or his mother.
During that dreadful night these two children had no comfort to seek anywhere in the whole wide universe but in each other. She, in a sense of his protection, he, in a sense of being her protector. The manliness in him greater and more beautiful than physical strength, developed in those dark hours just as a plant under extraordinary circumstances is hurried into bloom.
Towards dawn Emmeline fell asleep. Dick stole out of the hut when he had assured himself from her regular breathing that she was asleep, and, pushing the tendrils and the branches of the mammee apples aside, found the beach. The dawn was just breaking, and the morning breeze was coming in from the sea.
When he had beached the dinghy the day before, the tide was just at the flood, and it had left her stranded. The tide was coming in now, and in a short time it would be far enough up to push her off.
Emmeline in the night had implored him to take her away. Take her away somewhere from there, and he had promised, without knowing in the least how he was to perform his promise. As he stood looking at the beach, so desolate and strangely different now from what it was the day before, an idea of how he could fulfil his promise came to him. He ran down to where the little boat lay on the shelving sand, with the ripples of the incoming tide just washing the rudder, which was still shipped. He unshipped the rudder and came back.
Under a tree, covered with the stay-sail they had brought from the Shenandoah, lay most of their treasures: old clothes and boots, and all the other odds and ends. The precious tobacco stitched up in a piece of canvas was there, and the housewife with the needles and threads. A hole had been dug in the sand as a sort of cache for them, and the stay-sail put over them to protect them from the dew.
The sun was now looking over the sealine, and the tall cocoa-nut trees were singing and whispering together under the strengthen- ing breeze.
The water was now so high that a strong push would float her. He turned back to the hut for Emmeline. She was still asleep: so soundly asleep, that when he lifted her up in his arms she made no movement. He placed her carefully in the stern-sheets with her head on the sail rolled up, and then standing in the bow pushed off with a scull. Then, taking the sculls, he turned the boat's head up the lagoon to the left. He kept close to the shore, but for the life of him he could not help lifting his eyes and looking towards the reef.
Round a certain spot on the distant white coral there was a great commotion of birds. Huge birds some of them seemed, and the "Hi! hi! hi!" of them came across the lagoon on the breeze as they quarrelled together and beat the air with their wings. He turned his head away till a bend of the shore hid the spot from sight.
Here, sheltered more completely than opposite the break in the reef, the artu came in places right down to the water's edge; the breadfruit trees cast the shadow of their great scalloped leaves upon the water; glades, thick with fern, wildernesses of the mammee apple, and bushes of the scarlet "wild cocoanut" all slipped by, as the dinghy, hugging the shore, crept up the lagoon.
Gazing at the shore edge one might have imagined it the edge of a lake, but for the thunder of the Pacific upon the distant reef; and even that did not destroy the impression, but only lent a strangeness to it.
A lake in the midst of the ocean, that is what the lagoon really was.
Here and there cocoa-nut trees slanted over the water, mirroring their delicate stems, and tracing their clear-cut shadows on the sandy bottom a fathom deep below.
He kept close in-shore for the sake of the shelter of the trees. His object was to find some place where they might stop permanently, and put up a tent. He was seeking a new home, in fact. But, pretty as were the glades they passed, they were not attractive places to live in. There were too many trees, or the ferns were too deep. He was seeking air and space, and suddenly he found it. Rounding a little cape, all blazing with the scarlet of the wild cocoa-nut, the dinghy broke into a new world.
Before her lay a great sweep of the palest blue wind- swept water, down to which came a broad green sward of park-like land set on either side with deep groves, and leading up and away to higher land, where, above the massive and motionless green of the great breadfruit trees, the palm trees swayed and fluttered their pale green feathers in the breeze. The pale colour of the water was due to the extreme shallowness of the lagoon just here. So shallow was it that one could see brown spaces indicating beds of dead and rotten coral, and splashes of darkest sapphire where the deep pools lay. The reef lay more than half a mile from the shore: a great way out, it seemed, so far out that its cramping influence was removed, and one had the impression of wide and unbroken sea.
Dick rested on his oars, and let the dinghy float whilst he looked around him. He had come some four miles and a half, and this was right at the back of the island. As the boat drifting shoreward touched the bank, Emmeline awakened from her sleep, sat up, and looked around her.
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