Wednesday, October 10, 2007


The Blue lagoon: A Romance by H. de Vere Stacpoole

The Blue lagoon: A Romance
by H. de Vere Stacpoole
Mr Button was seated on a sea-chest with a fiddle under his left
ear. He was playing the "Shan van vaught," and accompanying the
tune, punctuating it, with blows of his left heel on the fo'cs'le
"O the Frinch are in the bay,
Says the Shan van vaught."
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
"Pawthrick," drawled the voice from the hammock above, "what'd
you do first if you found y'self with twenty pound in your
"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."
It was a wonderful night up on deck, filled with all the majesty
and beauty of starlight and a tropic calm.
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
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 herself--
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 quarterdeck.
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
"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
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.
It was the fourth day of the long calm. An awning had been rigged
up on the poop for the passengers, and under it sat Lestrange,
trying to read, and the children trying to play. The heat and
monotony had reduced even Dicky to just a surly mass, languid in
movement as a grub. As for Emmeline, she seemed dazed. The ragdoll
lay a yard away from her on the poop deck, unnursed; even the
wretched box and its whereabouts she seemed to have quite
"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
"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
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
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
"No, never."
"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.
"Ay, ay."
"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 miragelike
tremor of the mast round which it curled.
"My God!" cried Le Farge, as he sprang from the poop and rushed
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.
Before the woman had time to speak a thunderous step was heard
on the companion stairs, and Le Farge broke into the saloon. The
man's face was injected with blood, his eyes were fixed and
glassy like the eyes of a drunkard, and the veins stood on his
temples like twisted cords.
"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
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
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
"No room for more!" cried Le Farge. "Your place will be in the longboat,
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
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.
"Ay, ay!"
"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
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 dissolved;
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 sun became fainter still, and vanished. Though the air round
the dinghy seemed quite clear, the on-coming boats were hazy and
dim, and that part of the horizon that had been fairly clear was
now blotted out.
The long-boat was leading by a good way. When she was within
hailing distance the captain's voice came.
"Dinghy ahoy!"
"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 quarterboat,
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
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
"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 quarterboat
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.
"Dinghy ahoy!"
"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
"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?"
"I'm 'fraid."
"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
"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.
"Is it aslape I've been?" said Mr Button, suddenly awaking with a
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
"What is it, honey?"
"Where are we now?"
"Sure, we're afloat on the say, acushla; where else would we be?"
"Where's uncle?"
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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.
Every hour or so Mr Button would shake his lethargy off, and rise
and look round for "seagulls," but the prospect was sail-less as
the prehistoric sea, wingless, voiceless. When Dick would fret
now and then, the old sailor would always devise some means of
amusing him. He made him fishing tackle out of a bent pin and
some small twine that happened to be in the boat, and told him to
fish for "pinkeens"; and Dick, with the pathetic faith of childhood,
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.
He had slept an hour and more when he was brought to his senses
by a thin and prolonged shriek. It was Emmeline in a nightmare, or
more properly a day-mare, brought on by a meal of sardines and
the haunting memory of the gibbly-gobbly-ums. When she was
shaken (it always took a considerable time to bring her to, from
these seizures) and comforted, the mast was restepped.
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
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
"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 deckhouse.
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 deckhouse.
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
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 extraordinary
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 tophat,
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
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
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.
"Daddy's a long time coming," said Dick all of a sudden.
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
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."
"Who's he?"
"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
"`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
"`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
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
"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?"
"Something nice."
"What's it like?" asked Dick, sniffing hard. "_I_ don't smell
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
"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
"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 deckhouse;
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
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 seagulls
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.
When the fog lifted after midnight the people in the long-boat
saw the quarter-boat half a mile to starboard of them.
"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
"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
"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.
"Quarter-boat ahoy!"
"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
"Quarter-boat, ahoy!" shouted the fellow in the bow. "Lay on your
"Here, you scowbanker!" cried Le Farge, "who are you to be giving
"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
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
"Childer!" shouted Paddy. He was at the cross-trees in the full
dawn, whilst the children standing beneath on deck were craning
their faces up to him. "There's an island forenint us."
"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
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 halfsack
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.
On either side lay a great sweep of waving blue water. Calm,
almost as a lake, sapphire here, and here with the tints of the
aquamarine. Water so clear that fathoms away below you could
see the branching coral, the schools of passing fish, and the
shadows of the fish upon the spaces of sand.
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
"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
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
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
"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
She unfolded a piece of tissue paper, and took from it a sugartongs
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."
"Who's they?"
"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
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
The children cried out at the prettiness of it, and Emmeline ran
and dabbled her hands in the water. Just above the little waterfall
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
"Mr Button," said she, when the latter had descended, "there's a
little barrel"; she pointed to something green and lichen-covered
that lay between the trunks of two trees--something that eyes
less sharp than the eyes of a child might have mistaken for a
"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
"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
"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
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 cocoapalm,
artu and breadfruit tree, swayed and rocked in the merry
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
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 seagulls.
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
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 hulldown
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
"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.
"Mr Buttons," said Emmeline that night, as they sat on the sand
near the tent he had improvised, "Mr Button--cats go to sleep."
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.
"Which things?"
"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 fiveshillin'
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
"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.
"I don't want my old britches on! I don't want my old britches on!"
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
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 hilltop
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.
To forget the passage of time you must live in the open air, in a
warm climate, with as few clothes as possible upon you. You must
collect and cook your own food. Then, after a while, if you have no
special ties to bind you to civilisation, Nature will begin to do for
you what she does for the savage. You will recognise that it is
possible to be happy without books or newspapers, letters or
bills. You will recognise the part sleep plays in Nature.
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?"
"Your name?"
"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 saltwhite
sand in face of orthography and the sun appeared these
portentous letters:
"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.
"Mr Button!"
"Well, honey?"
"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.
=== l
l l
<[ ]>
/ \
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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 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.
One morning, about a week after the day on which the old sailor,
to use his own expression, had bent a skirt on Emmeline, Dick
came through the woods and across the sands running. He had been
on the hill-top.
"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
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 funnysmelling
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.
"Rum, begorra!"
"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--"
"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.
Emmeline laughed.
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.
They had dinner at noon. Paddy knew how to cook fish, island
fashion, wrapping them in leaves, and baking them in a hole in the
ground in which a fire had previously been lit. They had fish and
taro root baked, and green cocoa-nuts; and after dinner Mr Button
filled a big shell with rum, and lit his pipe.
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
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.
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
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
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 whatnot,
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
"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 cocoanut
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
"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.
Mr Button saw no more rats, much to Dick's disappointment. He
was off the drink. At dawn next day he got up, refreshed by a
second sleep, and wandered down to the edge of the lagoon. The
opening in the reef faced the east, and the light of the dawn came
rippling in with the flooding tide.
"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--sometimes
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
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
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
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
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.
"I wonder where Paddy is?" cried Dick next morning. He was
coming out of the chapparel, pulling a dead branch after him. "He's
left his coat on the sand, and the tinder box in it, so I'll make the
fire. There's no use waiting. I want my breakfast. Bother!"
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
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
"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
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.
You could just make the figure out lying on the reef near the little
cask, and comfortably sheltered from the sun by an upstanding
lump of coral.
"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
"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
"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 openeyed
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.
The idea of spiritual life must be innate in the heart of man, for
all that terrible night, when the children lay huddled together in
the little hut in the chapparel, the fear that filled them was that
their old friend might suddenly darken the entrance and seek to
lie down beside them.
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
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, undeodorised
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
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 strengthening
He began to collect the things, and carry them to the dinghy. He
took the stay-sail and everything that might be useful; and when
he had stowed them in the boat, he took the breaker and filled it
with water at the water source in the wood; he collected some
bananas and breadfruit, and stowed them in the dinghy with the
breaker. Then he found the remains of yesterday's breakfast,
which he had hidden between two palmetto leaves, and placed it
also in the boat.
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
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
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
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.
On the edge of the green sward, between a diamond-chequered
artu trunk and the massive bole of a breadfruit, a house had come
into being. It was not much larger than a big hen-house, but quite
sufficient for the needs of two people in a climate of eternal
summer. It was built of bamboos, and thatched with a double
thatch of palmetto leaves, so neatly built, and so well thatched,
that one might have fancied it the production of several skilled
The breadfruit tree was barren of fruit, as these trees sometimes
are, whole groves of them ceasing to bear for some mysterious
reason only known to Nature. It was green now, but when
suffering its yearly change the great scalloped leaves would take
all imaginable tinges of gold and bronze and amber. Beyond the
artu was a little clearing, where the chapparel had been carefully
removed and taro roots planted.
Stepping from the house doorway on to the sward you might have
fancied yourself, except for the tropical nature of the foliage, in
some English park.
Looking to the right, the eye became lost in the woods, where all
tints of green were tinging the foliage, and the bushes of the wild
cocoa-nut burned scarlet as hawberries.
The house had a doorway, but no door. It might have been said to
have a double roof, for the breadfruit foliage above gave good
shelter during the rains. Inside it was bare enough. Dried, sweetsmelling
ferns covered the floor. Two sails, rolled up, lay on
either side of the doorway. There was a rude shelf attached to one
of the walls, and on the shelf some bowls made of cocoa-nut
shell. The people to whom the place belonged evidently did not
trouble it much with their presence, using it only at night, and as
a refuge from the dew.
Sitting on the grass by the doorway, sheltered by the breadfruit
shade, yet with the hot rays of the afternoon sun just touching
her naked feet, was a girl. A girl of fifteen or sixteen, naked,
except for a kilt of gaily-striped material reaching from her
waist to her knees. Her long black hair was drawn back from the
forehead, and tied behind with a loop of the elastic vine. A scarlet
blossom was stuck behind her right ear, after the fashion of a
clerk's pen. Her face was beautiful, powdered with tiny freckles;
especially under the eyes, which were of a deep, tranquil bluegrey.
She half sat, half lay on her left side; whilst before her,
quite close, strutted up and down on the grass, a bird, with blue
plumage, coral-red beak, and bright, watchful eyes.
The girl was Emmeline Lestrange. Just by her elbow stood a little
bowl made from half a cocoa-nut, and filled with some white
substance with which she was feeding the bird. Dick had found it
in the woods two years ago, quite small, deserted by its mother,
and starving. They had fed it and tamed it, and it was now one of
the family, roosting on the roof at night, and appearing regularly
at meal times.
All at once she held out her hand; the bird flew into the air, lit on
her forefinger and balanced itself, sinking its head between its
shoulders, and uttering the sound which formed its entire
vocabulary and one means of vocal expression--a sound from
which it had derived its name.
"Koko," said Emmeline, "where is Dick?"
The bird turned his head about, as if he were searching for his
master; and the girl lay back lazily on the grass, laughing, and
holding him up poised on her finger, as if he were some enamelled
jewel she wished to admire at a little distance. They made a
pretty picture under the cave-like shadow of the breadfruit
leaves; and it was difficult to understand how this young girl, so
perfectly formed, so fully developed, and so beautiful, had
evolved from plain little Emmeline Lestrange. And the whole
thing, as far as the beauty of her was concerned, had happened
during the last six months.
Five rainy seasons had passed and gone since the tragic
occurrence on the reef. Five long years the breakers had
thundered, and the sea-gulls had cried round the figure whose
spell had drawn a mysterious barrier across the lagoon.
The children had never returned to the old place. They had kept
entirely to the back of the island and the woods--the lagoon,
down to a certain point, and the reef; a wide enough and beautiful
enough world, but a hopeless world, as far as help from
civilisation was concerned. For, of the few ships that touched at
the island in the course of years, how many would explore the
lagoon or woods? Perhaps not one.
Occasionally Dick would make an excursion in the dinghy to the
old place, but Emmeline refused to accompany him. He went
chiefly to obtain bananas; for on the whole island there was but
one clump of banana trees--that near the water source in the
wood, where the old green skulls had been discovered, and the
little barrel.
She had never quite recovered from the occurrence on the reef.
Something had been shown to her, the purport of which she
vaguely understood, and it had filled her with horror and a terror
of the place where it had occurred. Dick was quite different. He
had been frightened enough at first; but the feeling wore away in
Dick had built three houses in succession during the five years. He
had laid out a patch of taro and another of sweet potatoes. He
knew every pool on the reef for two miles either way, and the
forms of their inhabitants; and though he did not know the names
of the creatures to be found there, he made a profound study of
their habits.
He had seen some astonishing things during these five years--
from a fight between a whale and two thrashers conducted
outside the reef, lasting an hour, and dyeing the breaking waves
with blood, to the poisoning of the fish in the lagoon by fresh
water, due to an extraordinarily heavy rainy season.
He knew the woods of the back of the island by heart, and the
forms of life that inhabited them, butterflies and moths and
birds, lizards, and insects of strange shape; extraordinary
orchids--some filthy-looking, the very image of corruption, some
beautiful, and all strange. He found melons and guavas, and
breadfruit, the red apple of Tahiti, and the great Brazilian plum,
taro in plenty, and a dozen other good things--but there were no
bananas. This made him unhappy at times, for he was human.
Though Emmeline had asked Koko for Dick's whereabouts, it was
only a remark made by way of making conversation, for she could
hear him in the little cane-brake which lay close by amidst the
In a few minutes he appeared, dragging after him two canes which
he had just cut, and wiping the perspiration off his brow with his
naked arm. He had an old pair of trousers on--part of the truck
salved long ago from the Shenandoah--nothing else, and he was
well worth looking at and considering, both from a physical and
psychological point of view.
Auburn-haired and tall, looking more like seventeen than sixteen,
with a restless and daring expression, half a child, half a man,
half a civilised being, half a savage, he had both progressed and
retrograded during the five years of savage life. He sat down
beside Emmeline, flung the canes beside him, tried the edge of the
old butcher's knife with which he had cut them, then, taking one
of the canes across his knee, he began whittling at it.
"What are you making?" asked Emmeline, releasing the bird, which
flew into one of the branches of the artu and rested there, a blue
point amidst the dark green.
"Fish-spear," replied Dick.
Without being taciturn, he rarely wasted words. Life was all
business for him. He would talk to Emmeline, but always in short
sentences; and he had developed the habit of talking to inanimate
things, to the fish-spear he was carving, or the bowl he was
fashioning from a cocoa-nut.
As for Emmeline, even as a child she had never been talkative.
There was something mysterious in her personality, something
secretive. Her mind seemed half submerged in twilight. Though
she spoke little, and though the subject of their conversations
was almost entirely material and relative to their everyday
needs, her mind would wander into abstract fields and the land of
chimerae and dreams. What she found there no one knew--least of
all, perhaps, herself.
As for Dick, he would sometimes talk and mutter to himself, as if
in a reverie; but if you caught the words, you would find that they
referred to no abstraction, but to some trifle he had on hand. He
seemed entirely bound up in the moment, and to have forgotten
the past as completely as though it had never been.
Yet he had his contemplative moods. He would lie with his face
over a rock-pool by the hour, watching the strange forms of life
to be seen there, or sit in the woods motionless as a stone,
watching the birds and the swift-slipping lizards. The birds came
so close that he could easily have knocked them over, but he never
hurt one or interfered in any way with the wild life of the woods.
The island, the lagoon, and the reef were for him the three
volumes of a great picture book, as they were for Emmeline,
though in a different manner. The colour and the beauty of it all
fed some mysterious want in her soul. Her life was a long reverie,
a beautiful vision--troubled with shadows. Across all the blue
and coloured spaces that meant months and years she could still
see as in a glass dimly the Northumberland, smoking against
the wild background of fog; her uncle's face, Boston--a vague and
dark picture beyond a storm--and nearer, the tragic form on the
reef that still haunted terribly her dreams. But she never spoke of
these things to Dick. Just as she kept the secret of what was in
her box, and the secret of her trouble whenever she lost it, she
kept the secret of her feelings about these things.
Born of these things there remained with her always a vague
terror: the terror of losing Dick. Mrs Stannard, her uncle, the dim
people she had known in Boston, all had passed away out of her
life like a dream and shadows. The other one too, most horribly.
What if Dick were taken from her as well?
This haunting trouble had been with her a long time; up to a few
months ago it had been mainly personal and selfish--the dread of
being left alone. But lately it had altered and become more acute.
Dick had changed in her eyes, and the fear was now for him. Her
own personality had suddenly and strangely become merged in his.
The idea of life without him was unthinkable, yet the trouble
remained, a menace in the blue.
Some days it would be worse than others. To-day, for instance, it
was worse than yesterday, as though some danger had crept close
to them during the night. Yet the sky and sea were stainless, the
sun shone on tree and flower, the west wind brought the tune of
the far-away reef like a lullaby. There was nothing to hint of
danger or the need of distrust.
At last Dick finished his spear and rose to his feet.
"Where are you going?" asked Emmeline.
"The reef," he replied. "The tide's going out."
"I'll go with you," said she.
He went into the house and stowed the precious knife away. Then
he came out, spear in one hand, and half a fathom of liana in the
other. The liana was for the purpose of stringing the fish on,
should the catch be large. He led the way down the grassy sward
to the lagoon where the dinghy lay, close up to the bank, and
moored to a post driven into the soft soil. Emmeline got in, and,
taking the sculls, he pushed off. The tide was going out.
I have said that the reef just here lay a great way out from the
shore. The lagoon was so shallow that at low tide one could have
waded almost right across it, were it not for pot-holes here and
there--ten-feet traps--and great beds of rotten coral, into which
one would sink as into brushwood, to say nothing of the nettle
coral that stings like a bed of nettles. There were also other
dangers. Tropical shallows are full of wild surprises in the way
of life and death.
Dick had long ago marked out in his memory the soundings of the
lagoon, and it was fortunate that he possessed the special sense
of location which is the main stand-by of the hunter and the
savage, for, from the disposition of the coral in ribs, the water
from the shore edge to the reef ran in lanes. Only two of these
lanes gave a clear, fair way from the shore edge to the reef; had
you followed the others, even in a boat of such shallow draught as
the dinghy, you would have found yourself stranded half-way
across, unless, indeed, it were a spring tide.
Half-way across the sound of the surf on the barrier became
louder, and the everlasting and monotonous cry of the gulls came
on the breeze. It was lonely out here, and, looking back, the shore
seemed a great way off. It was lonelier still on the reef.
Dick tied up the boat to a projection of coral, and helped
Emmeline to land. The sun was creeping down into the west, the
tide was nearly half out, and large pools of water lay glittering
like burnished shields in the sunlight. Dick, with his precious
spear beside him, sat calmly down on a ledge of coral, and began
to divest himself of his one and only garment.
Emmeline turned away her head and contemplated the distant
shore, which seemed thrice as far off as it was in reality. When
she turned her head again he was racing along the edge of the
surf. He and his spear silhouetted against the spindrift and
dazzling foam formed a picture savage enough, and well in
keeping with the general desolation of the background. She
watched him lie down and cling to a piece of coral, whilst the
surf rushed round and over him, and then rise and shake himself
like a dog, and pursue his gambols, his body all glittering with the
Sometimes a whoop would come on the breeze, mixing with the
sound of the surf and the cry of the gulls, and she would see him
plunge his spear into a pool, and the next moment the spear would
be held aloft with something struggling and glittering at the end
of it.
He was quite different out here on the reef to what he was
ashore. The surroundings here seemed to develop all that was
savage in him, in a startling way; and he would kill, and kill, just
for the pleasure of killing, destroying more fish than they could
possibly use.
The romance of coral has still to be written. There still exists a
widespread opinion that the coral reef and the coral island are
the work of an "insect." This fabulous insect, accredited with the
genius of Brunel and the patience of Job, has been humorously
enough held up before the children of many generations as an
example of industry--a thing to be admired, a model to be
As a matter of fact, nothing could be more slothful or slow, more
given up to a life of ease and degeneracy, than the "reef-building
polypifer"--to give him his scientific name. He is the hobo of the
animal world, but, unlike the hobo, he does not even tramp for a
living. He exists as a sluggish and gelatinous worm; he attracts to
himself calcareous elements from the water to make himself a
house--mark you, the sea does the building--he dies, and he
leaves his house behind him--and a reputation for industry,
beside which the reputation of the ant turns pale, and that of the
bee becomes of little account.
On a coral reef you are treading on rock that the reef-building
polypifers of ages have left behind them as evidences of their
idle and apparently useless lives. You might fancy that the reef is
formed of dead rock, but it is not: that is where the wonder of the
thing comes in--a coral reef is half alive. If it were not, it would
not resist the action of the sea ten years. The live part of the
reef is just where the breakers come in and beyond. The
gelatinous rock-building polypifers die almost at once, if exposed
to the sun or if left uncovered by water.
Sometimes, at very low tide, if you have courage enough to risk
being swept away by the breakers, going as far out on the reef as
you can, you may catch a glimpse of them in their living state--
great mounds and masses of what seems rock, but which is a
honeycomb of coral, whose cells are filled with the living
polypifers. Those in the uppermost cells are usually dead, but
lower down they are living.
Always dying, always being renewed, devoured by fish, attacked
by the sea--that is the life of a coral reef. It is a thing as living
as a cabbage or a tree. Every storm tears a piece off the reef,
which the living coral replaces; wounds occur in it which actually
granulate and heal as wounds do of the human body.
There is nothing, perhaps, more mysterious in nature than this
fact of the existence of a living land: a land that repairs itself,
when injured, by vital processes, and resists the eternal attack
of the sea by vital force, especially when we think of the extent
of some of these lagoon islands or atolls, whose existences are
an eternal battle with the waves.
Unlike the island of this story (which is an island surrounded by a
barrier reef of coral surrounding a space of sea--the lagoon), the
reef forms the island. The reef may be grown over by trees, or it
may be perfectly destitute of important vegetation, or it may be
crusted with islets. Some islets may exist within the lagoon, but
as often as not it is just a great empty lake floored with sand and
coral, peopled with life different to the life of the outside ocean,
protected from the waves, and reflecting the sky like a mirror.
When we remember that the atoll is a living thing, an organic
whole, as full of life, though not so highly organised, as a
tortoise, the meanest imagination must be struck with the
immensity of one of the structures.
Vliegen atoll in the Low Archipelago, measured from lagoon edge
to lagoon edge, is sixty miles long by twenty miles broad, at its
broadest part. In the Marshall Archipelago, Rimsky Korsacoff is
fifty-four miles long and twenty miles broad; and Rimsky
Korsacoff is a living thing, secreting, excreting, and growing
more highly organised than the cocoa-nut trees that grow upon its
back, or the blossoms that powder the hotoo trees in its groves.
The story of coral is the story of a world, and the longest chapter
in that story concerns itself with coral's infinite variety and
Out on the margin of the reef where Dick was spearing fish, you
might have seen a peach-blossom-coloured lichen on the rock.
This lichen was a form of coral. Coral growing upon coral, and in
the pools at the edge of the surf branching corals also of the
colour of a peach-bloom.
Within a hundred yards of where Emmeline was sitting, the pools
contained corals of all colours, from lake-red to pure white, and
the lagoon behind her--corals of the quaintest and strangest
Dick had speared several fish, and had left them lying on the reef
to be picked up later on. Tired of killing, he was now wandering
along, examining the various living things he came across.
Huge slugs inhabited the reef, slugs as big as parsnips, and
somewhat of the same shape; they were a species of Bech de mer.
Globeshaped jelly-fish as big as oranges, great cuttlefish bones
flat and shining and white, shark's teeth, spines of echini;
sometimes a dead scarus fish, its stomach distended with bits of
coral on which it had been feeding; crabs, sea urchins, sea-weeds
of strange colour and shape; star-fish, some tiny and of the
colour of cayenne pepper, some huge and pale. These and a
thousand other things, beautiful or strange, were to be found on
the reef.
Dick had laid his spear down, and was exploring a deep bath-like
pool. He had waded up to his knees, and was in the act of wading
further when he was suddenly seized by the foot. It was just as if
his ankle had been suddenly caught in a clove hitch and the rope
drawn tight. He screamed out with pain and terror, and suddenly
and viciously a whip-lash shot out from the water, lassoed him
round the left knee, drew itself taut, and held him.
Emmeline, seated on the coral rock, had almost forgotten Dick for
a moment. The sun was setting, and the warm amber light of the
sunset shone on reef and rock-pool. Just at sunset and low tide
the reef had a peculiar fascination for her. It had the low-tide
smell of sea-weed exposed to the air, and the torment and trouble
of the breakers seemed eased. Before her, and on either side, the
foam-dashed coral glowed in amber and gold, and the great
Pacific came glassing and glittering in, voiceless and peaceful,
till it reached the strand and burst into song and spray.
Here, just as on the hill-top at the other side of the island, you
could mark the rhythm of the rollers. "Forever, and forever--
forever, and forever," they seemed to say.
The cry of the gulls came mixed with the spray on the breeze.
They haunted the reef like uneasy spirits, always complaining,
never at rest; but at sunset their cry seemed farther away and
less melancholy, perhaps because just then the whole island
world seemed bathed in the spirit of peace.
She turned from the sea prospect and looked backwards over the
lagoon to the island. She could make out the broad green glade
beside which their little house lay, and a spot of yellow, which
was the thatch of the house, just by the artu tree, and nearly
hidden by the shadow of the breadfruit. Over woods the fronds of
the great cocoa-nut palms showed above every other tree
silhouetted against the dim, dark blue of the eastern sky.
Seen by the enchanted light of sunset, the whole picture had an
unreal look, more lovely than a dream. At dawn--and Dick would
often start for the reef before dawn, if the tide served--the
picture was as beautiful; more so, perhaps, for over the island,
all in shadow, and against the stars, you would see the palm-tops
catching fire, and then the light of day coming through the green
trees and blue sky, like a spirit, across the blue lagoon, widening
and strengthening as it widened across the white foam, out over
the sea, spreading like a fan, till, all at once, night was day, and
the gulls were crying and the breakers flashing, the dawn wind
blowing, and the palm trees bending, as palm trees only know
how. Emmeline always imagined herself alone on the island with
Dick, but beauty was there, too, and beauty is a great companion.
The girl was contemplating the scene before her. Nature in her
friendliest mood seemed to say, "Behold me! Men call me cruel;
men have called me deceitful, even treacherous. _I_--ah well! my
answer is, `Behold me!'"
The girl was contemplating the specious beauty of it all, when on
the breeze from seaward came a shout. She turned quickly. There
was Dick up to his knees in a rockpool a hundred yards or so away,
motionless, his arms upraised, and crying out for help. She sprang
to her feet.
There had once been an islet on this part of the reef, a tiny thing,
consisting of a few palms and a handful of vegetation, and
destroyed, perhaps, in some great storm. I mention this because
the existence of this islet once upon a time was the means,
indirectly, of saving Dick's life; for where these islets have been
or are, "flats" occur on the reef formed of coral conglomerate.
Emmeline in her bare feet could never have reached him in time
over rough coral, but, fortunately, this flat and comparatively
smooth surface lay between them.
"My spear!" shouted Dick, as she approached.
He seemed at first tangled in brambles; then she thought ropes
were tangling round him and tying him to something in the water-
-whatever it was, it was most awful, and hideous, and like a
nightmare. She ran with the speed of Atalanta to the rock where
the spear was resting, all red with the blood of new-slain fish, a
foot from the point.
As she approached Dick, spear in hand, she saw, gasping with
terror, that the ropes were alive, and that they were flickering
and rippling over his back. One of them bound his left arm to his
side, but his right arm was free.
"Quick!" he shouted.
In a second the spear was in his free hand, and Emmeline had cast
herself down on her knees, and was staring with terrified eyes
into the water of the pool from whence the ropes issued. She was,
despite her terror, quite prepared to fling herself in and do battle
with the thing, whatever it might be.
What she saw was only for a second. In the deep water of the
pool, gazing up and forward and straight at Dick, she saw a face,
lugubrious and awful. The eyes were wide as saucers, stony and
steadfast; a large, heavy, parrot-like beak hung before the eyes,
and worked and wobbled, and seemed to beckon. But what froze
one's heart was the expression of the eyes, so stony and
lugubrious, so passionless, so devoid of speculation, yet so fixed
of purpose and full of fate.
From away far down he had risen with the rising tide. He had been
feeding on crabs, when the tide, betraying him, had gone out,
leaving him trapped in the rock-pool. He had slept, perhaps, and
awakened to find a being, naked and defenceless, invading his
pool. He was quite small, as octopods go, and young, yet he was
large and powerful enough to have drowned an ox.
The octopod has only been described once, in stone, by a Japanese
artist. The statue is still extant, and it is the most terrible
masterpiece of sculpture ever executed by human hands. It
represents a man who has been bathing on a low-tide beach, and
has been caught. The man is shouting in a delirium of terror, and
threatening with his free arm the spectre that has him in its grip.
The eyes of the octopod are fixed upon the man--passionless and
lugubrious eyes, but steadfast and fixed.
Another whip-lash shot out of the water in a shower of spray, and
seized Dick by the left thigh. At the same instant he drove the
point of the spear through the right eye of the monster, deep down
through eye and soft gelatinous carcass till the spear-point
dirled and splintered against the rock. At the same moment the
water of the pool became black as ink, the bands around him
relaxed, and he was free.
Emmeline rose up and seized him, sobbing and clinging to him, and
kissing him. He clasped her with his left arm round her body, as if
to protect her, but it was a mechanical action. He was not
thinking of her. Wild with rage, and uttering hoarse cries, he
plunged the broken spear again and again into the depths of the
pool, seeking utterly to destroy the enemy that had so lately had
him in its grip. Then slowly he came to himself, and wiped his
forehead, and looked at the broken spear in his hand.
"Beast!" he said. "Did you see its eyes? Did you see its eyes? I
wish it had a hundred eyes, and I had a hundred spears to drive
into them!"
She was clinging to him, and sobbing and laughing hysterically,
and praising him. One might have thought that he had rescued her
from death, not she him.
The sun had nearly vanished, and he led her back to where the
dinghy was moored, recapturing and putting on his trousers on the
road. He picked up the dead fish he had speared; and as he rowed
her back across the lagoon, he talked and laughed, recounting the
incidents of the fight, taking all the glory of the thing to himself,
and seeming quite to ignore the important part she had played in
This was not from any callousness or want of gratitude, but
simply from the fact that for the last five years he had been the
be-all and end-all of their tiny community--the Imperial master.
And he would just as soon have thought of thanking her for
handing him the spear as of thanking his right hand for driving it
home. She was quite content, seeking neither thanks nor praise.
Everything she had came from him: she was his shadow and his
slave. He was her sun.
He went over the fight again and again before they lay down to
rest, telling her he had done this and that, and what he would do
to the next beast of the sort. The reiteration was tiresome
enough, or would have been to an outside listener, but to
Emmeline it was better than Homer. People's minds do not
improve in an intellectual sense when they are isolated from the
world, even though they are living the wild and happy lives of
Then Dick lay down in the dried ferns and covered himself with a
piece of the striped flannel which they used for blanketing, and he
snored, and chattered in his sleep like a dog hunting imaginary
game, and Emmeline lay beside him wakeful and thinking. A new
terror had come into her life. She had seen death for the second
time, but this time active and in being.
The next day Dick was sitting under the shade of the artu. He had
the box of fishhooks beside him, and he was bending a line on to
one of them. There had originally been a couple of dozen hooks,
large and small, in the box; there remained now only six--four
small and two large ones. It was a large one he was fixing to the
line, for he intended going on the morrow to the old place to fetch
some bananas, and on the way to try for a fish in the deeper parts
of the lagoon.
It was late afternoon, and the heat had gone out of the day.
Emmeline, seated on the grass opposite to him, was holding the
end of the line, whilst he got the kinks out of it, when suddenly
she raised her head.
There was not a breath of wind; the hush of the far-distant surf
came through the blue weather--the only audible sound except,
now and then, a movement and flutter from the bird perched in the
branches of the artu. All at once another sound mixed itself with
the voice of the surf--a faint, throbbing sound, like the beating of
a distant drum.
"Listen!" said Emmeline.
Dick paused for a moment in his work. All the sounds of the island
were familiar: this was something quite strange.
Faint and far away, now rapid, now slow; coming from where, who
could say? Sometimes it seemed to come from the sea,
sometimes, if the fancy of the listener turned that way, from the
woods. As they listened, a sigh came from overhead; the evening
breeze had risen and was moving in the leaves of the artu tree.
Just as you might wipe a picture off a slate, the breeze banished
the sound. Dick went on with his work.
Next morning early he embarked in the dinghy. He took the hook
and line with him, and some raw fish for bait. Emmeline helped
him to push off, and stood on the bank waving her hand as he
rounded the little cape covered with wild cocoa-nut.
These expeditions of Dick's were one of her sorrows. To be left
alone was frightful; yet she never complained. She was living in a
paradise, but something told her that behind all that sun, all that
splendour of blue sea and sky, behind the flowers and the leaves,
behind all that specious and simpering appearance of happiness in
nature, lurked a frown, and the dragon of mischance.
Dick rowed for about a mile, then he shipped his sculls, and let
the dinghy float. The water here was very deep; so deep that,
despite its clearness, the bottom was invisible; the sunlight over
the reef struck through it diagonally, filling it with sparkles.
The fisherman baited his hook with a piece from the belly of a
scarus and lowered it down out of sight, then he belayed the line
to a thole pin, and, sitting in the bottom of the boat, hung his head
over the side and gazed deep down into the water. Sometimes
there was nothing to see but just the deep blue of the water. Then
a flight of spangled arrowheads would cross the line of sight and
vanish, pursued by a form like a moving bar of gold. Then a great
fish would materialise itself and hang in the shadow of the boat
motionless as a stone, save for the movement of its gills; next
moment with a twist of the tail it would be gone.
Suddenly the dinghy shored over, and might have capsized, only
for the fact that Dick was sitting on the opposite side to the side
from which the line hung. Then the boat righted; the line
slackened, and the surface of the lagoon, a few fathoms away,
boiled as if being stirred from below by a great silver stick. He
had hooked an albicore. He tied the end of the fishing-line to a
scull, undid the line from the thole pin, and flung the scull
He did all this with wonderful rapidity, while the line was still
slack. Next moment the scull was rushing over the surface of the
lagoon, now towards the reef, now towards the shore, now flat,
now end up. Now it would be jerked under the surface entirely;
vanish for a moment, and then reappear. It was a most astonishing
thing to watch, for the scull seemed alive--viciously alive, and
imbued with some destructive purpose; as, in fact, it was. The
most venomous of living things, and the most intelligent could
not have fought the great fish better.
The albicore would make a frantic dash down the lagoon, hoping,
perhaps, to find in the open sea a release from his foe. Then, half
drowned with the pull of the scull, he would pause, dart from side
to side in perplexity, and then make an equally frantic dash up the
lagoon, to be checked in the same manner. Seeking the deepest
depths, he would sink the scull a few fathoms; and once he sought
the air, leaping into the sunlight like a crescent of silver, whilst
the splash of him as he fell echoed amidst the trees bordering the
lagoon. An hour passed before the great fish showed signs of
The struggle had taken place up to this close to the shore, but
now the scull swam out into the broad sheet of sunlit water, and
slowly began to describe large circles rippling up the peaceful
blue into flashing wavelets. It was a melancholy sight to watch,
for the great fish had made a good fight, and one could see him,
through the eye of imagination, beaten, half drowned, dazed, and
moving as is the fashion of dazed things in a circle.
Dick, working the remaining oar at the stern of the boat, rowed
out and seized the floating scull, bringing it on board. Foot by foot
he hauled his catch towards the boat till the long gleaming line of
the thing came dimly into view.
The fight had been heard for miles through the lagoon water by all
sorts of swimming things. The lord of the place had got sound of
it. A dark fin rippled the water; and as Dick, pulling on his line,
hauled his catch closer, a monstrous grey shadow stained the
depths, and the glittering streak that was the albicore vanished
as if engulfed in a cloud. The line came in slack, and Dick hauled
in the albicore's head. It had been divided from the body as if with
a huge pair of shears. The grey shadow slipped by the boat, and
Dick, mad with rage, shouted and shook his fist at it; then,
seizing the albicore's head, from which he had taken the hook, he
hurled it at the monster in the water.
The great shark, with a movement of the tail that caused the
water to swirl and the dinghy to rock, turned upon his back and
engulfed the head; then he slowly sank and vanished, just as if he
had been dissolved. He had come off best in this their first
encounter--such as it was.
Dick put the hook away and took to the sculls. He had a three-mile
row before him, and the tide was coming in, which did not make it
any the easier. As he rowed, he talked and grumbled to himself. He
had been in a grumbling mood for some time past: the chief cause,
In the last few months she had changed; even her face had
changed. A new person had come upon the island, it seemed to
him, and taken the place of the Emmeline he had known from
earliest childhood. This one looked different. He did not know that
she had grown beautiful, he just knew that she looked different;
also she had developed new ways that displeased him--she would
go off and bathe by herself, for instance.
Up to six months or so ago he had been quite contented; sleeping
and eating, and hunting for food and cooking it, building and
rebuilding the house, exploring the woods and the reef. But lately
a spirit of restlessness had come upon him; he did not know
exactly what he wanted. He had a vague feeling that he wanted to
go away from the place where he was; not from the island, but
from the place where they had pitched their tent, or rather built
their house.
It may have been the spirit of civilisation crying out in him,
telling him of all he was missing. Of the cities, and the streets,
and the houses, and the businesses, and the striving after gold,
the striving after power. It may have been simply the man in him
crying out for Love, and not knowing yet that Love was at his
The dinghy glided along, hugging the shore, past the little glades
of fern and the cathedral gloom of the breadfruit; then, rounding a
promontory, she opened the view of the break in the reef. A little
bit of the white strand was visible, but he was not looking that
way--he was looking towards the reef at a tiny, dark spot, not
noticeable unless searched for by the eye. Always when he came
on these expeditions, just here, he would hang on his oars and
gaze over there, where the gulls were flying and the breakers
A few years ago the spot filled him with dread as well as
curiosity, but from familiarity and the dullness that time casts
on everything, the dread had almost vanished, but the curiosity
remained: the curiosity that makes a child look on at the
slaughter of an animal even though his soul revolts at it. He gazed
for a while, then he went on pulling, and the dinghy approached
the beach.
Something had happened on the beach. The sand was all trampled,
and stained red here and there; in the centre lay the remains of a
great fire still smouldering, and just where the water lapped the
sand, lay two deep grooves as if two heavy boats had been
beached there. A South Sea man would have told from the shape of
the grooves, and the little marks of the out-riggers, that two
heavy canoes had been beached there. And they had.
The day before, early in the afternoon, two canoes, possibly from
that far-away island which cast a stain on the horizon to the -
sou'-sou'-west, had entered the lagoon, one in pursuit of the
What happened then had better be left veiled. A war drum with a
shark-skin head had set the woods throbbing; the victory was
celebrated all night, and at dawn the victors manned the two
canoes and set sail for the
home, or hell, they had come from. Had you examined the strand
you would have found that a line had been drawn across the beach,
beyond which there were no footmarks: that meant that the rest
of the island was for some reason tabu.
Dick pulled the nose of the boat up a bit on the strand, then he
looked around him. He picked up a broken spear that had been cast
away or forgotten; it was made of some hard wood and barbed
with iron. On the right-hand side of the beach something lay
between the cocoa-nut trees. He approached; it was a mass of
offal; the entrails of a dozen sheep seemed cast here in one
mound, yet there were no sheep on the island, and sheep are not
carried as a rule in war canoes.
The sand on the beach was eloquent. The foot pursuing and the
foot pursued; the knee of the fallen one, and then the forehead and
outspread hands; the heel of the chief who has slain his enemy,
beaten the body flat, burst a hole through it, through which he has
put his head, and who stands absolutely wearing his enemy as a
cloak; the head of the man dragged on his back to be butchered
like a sheep--of these things spoke the sand.
As far as the sand traces could speak, the story of the battle was
still being told; the screams and the shouting, the clashing of
clubs and spears were gone, yet the ghost of the fight remained.
If the sand could bear such traces, and tell such tales, who shall
say that the plastic aether was destitute of the story of the fight
and the butchery?
However that may have been, Dick, looking around him, had the
shivering sense of having just escaped from danger. Whoever had
been, had gone--he could tell that by the canoe traces. Gone either
out to sea, or up the right stretch of the lagoon. It was important
to determine this.
He climbed to the hill-top and swept the sea with his eyes. There,
away to the south-west, far away on the sea, he could distinguish
the brown sails of two canoes. There was something
indescribably mournful and lonely in their appearance; they looked
like withered leaves--brown moths blown to sea--derelicts of
autumn. Then, remembering the beach, these things became
freighted with the most sinister thoughts for the mind of the
gazer. They were hurrying away, having done their work. That they
looked lonely and old and mournful, and like withered leaves
blown across the sea, only heightened the horror.
Dick had never seen canoes before, but he knew that these things
were boats of some sort holding people, and that the people had
left all those traces on the beach. How much of the horror of the
thing was revealed to his subconscious intelligence, who can say?
He had climbed the boulder, and he now sat down with his knees
drawn up, and his hands clasped round them. Whenever he came
round to this side of the island, something happened of a fateful
or sinister nature. The last time he had nearly lost the dinghy; he
had beached the little boat in such a way that she floated off, and
the tide was just in the act of stealing her, and sweeping her
from the lagoon out to sea, when he returned laden with his
bananas, and, rushing into the water up to his waist, saved her.
Another time he had fallen out of a tree, and just by a miracle
escaped death. Another time a hurricane had broken, lashing the
lagoon into snow, and sending the cocoa-nuts bounding and flying
like tennis balls across the strand. This time he had just escaped
something, he knew not exactly what. It was almost as if
Providence were saying to him, "Don't come here."
He watched the brown sails as they dwindled in the wind-blown
blue, then he came down from the hill-top and cut his bananas. He
cut four large bunches, which caused him to make two journeys to
the boat. When the bananas were stowed he pushed off.
For a long time a great curiosity had been pulling at his heartstrings:
a curiosity of which he was dimly ashamed. Fear had
given it birth, and Fear still clung to it. It was, perhaps, the
element of fear and the awful delight of daring the unknown that
made him give way to it.
He had rowed, perhaps, a hundred yards when he turned the boat's
head and made for the reef. It was more than five years since that
day when he rowed across the lagoon, Emmeline sitting in the
stern, with her wreath of flowers in her hand. It might have been
only yesterday, for everything seemed just the same. The
thunderous surf and the flying gulls, the blinding sunlight, and the
salt, fresh smell of the sea. The palm tree at the entrance of the
lagoon still bent gazing into the water, and round the projection
of coral to which he had last moored the boat still lay a fragment
of the rope which he had cut in his hurry to escape.
Ships had come into the lagoon, perhaps, during the five years, but
no one had noticed anything on the reef, for it was only from the
hill-top that a full view of what was there could be seen, and
then only by eyes knowing where to look. From the beach there
was visible just a speck. It might have been, perhaps, a bit of old
wreckage flung there by a wave in some big storm. A piece of old
wreckage that had been tossed hither and thither for years, and
had at last found a place of rest.
Dick tied the boat up, and stepped on to the reef. It was high tide
just as before; the breeze was blowing strongly, and overhead a
man-of-war's bird, black as ebony, with a blood-red bill, came
sailing, the wind doming out his wings. He circled in the air, and
cried out fiercely, as if resenting the presence of the intruder,
then he passed away, let himself be blown away, as it were,
across the lagoon, wheeled, circled, and passed out to sea.
Dick approached the place he knew, and there lay the little old
barrel all warped by the powerful sun; the staves stood apart, and
the hooping was rusted and broken, and whatever it had contained
in the way of spirit and conviviality had long ago drained away.
Beside the barrel lay a skeleton, round which lay a few rags of
cloth. The skull had fallen to one side, and the lower jaw had
fallen from the skull; the bones of the hands and feet were still
articulated, and the ribs had not fallen in. It was all white and
bleached, and the sun shone on it as indifferently as on the coral,
this shell and framework that had once been a man. There was
nothing dreadful about it, but a whole world of wonder.
To Dick, who had not been broken into the idea of death, who had
not learned to associate it with graves and funerals, sorrow,
eternity, and hell, the thing spoke as it never could have spoken to
you or me.
Looking at it, things linked themselves together in his mind: the
skeletons of birds he had found in the woods, the fish he had
slain, even trees lying dead and rotten--even the shells of crabs.
If you had asked him what lay before him, and if he could have
expressed the thought in his mind, he would have answered you
All the philosophy in the world could not have told him more than
he knew just then about death--he, who even did not know its
He was held spellbound by the marvel and miracle of the thing and
the thoughts that suddenly crowded his mind like a host of
spectres for whom a door has just been opened.
Just as a child by unanswerable logic knows that a fire which has
burned him once will burn him again, or will burn another person,
he knew that just as the form before him was, his form would be
some day--and Emmeline's.
Then came the vague question which is born not of the brain, but
the heart, and which is the basis of all religions--where shall I
be then? His mind was not of an introspective nature, and the
question just strayed across it and was gone. And still the
wonder of the thing held him. He was for the first time in his life
in a reverie; the corpse that had shocked and terrified him five
years ago had cast seeds of thought with its dead fingers upon his
mind, the skeleton had brought them to maturity. The full fact of
universal death suddenly appeared before him, and he recognised
He stood for a long time motionless, and then with a deep sigh
turned to the boat and pushed off without once looking back at the
reef. He crossed the lagoon and rowed slowly homewards, keeping
in the shelter of the tree shadows as much as possible.
Even looking at him from the shore you might have noticed a
difference in him. Your savage paddles his canoe, or sculls his
boat, alert, glancing about him, at touch with nature at all points;
though he be lazy as a cat and sleeps half the day, awake he is all
ears and eyes--a creature reacting to the least external
Dick, as he rowed back, did not look about him: he was thinking or
retrospecting. The savage in him had received a check. As he
turned the little cape where the wild cocoanut blazed, he looked
over his shoulder. A figure was standing on the sward by the edge
of the water. It was Emmeline.
They carried the bananas up to the house, and hung them from a
branch of the artu. Then Dick, on his knees, lit the fire to prepare
the evening meal. When it was over he went down to where the
boat was moored, and returned with something in his hand. It was
the javelin with the iron point or, rather, the two pieces of it. He
had said nothing of what he had seen to the girl.
Emmeline was seated on the grass; she had a long strip of the
striped flannel stuff about her, worn like a scarf, and she had
another piece in her hand which she was hemming. The bird was
hopping about, pecking at a banana which they had thrown to him;
a light breeze made the shadow of the artu leaves dance upon the
grass, and the serrated leaves of the breadfruit to patter one on
the other with the sound of rain-drops falling upon glass.
"Where did you get it?" asked Emmeline, staring at the piece of
the javelin which Dick had flung down almost beside her whilst
he went into the house to fetch the knife.
"It was on the beach over there," he replied, taking his seat and
examining the two fragments to see how he could splice them
Emmeline looked at the pieces, putting them together in her mind.
She did not like the look of the thing: so keen and savage, and
stained dark a foot and more from the point.
"People had been there," said Dick, putting the two pieces
together and examining the fracture critically.
"Over there. This was lying on the sand, and the sand was all trod
"Dick," said Emmeline, "who were the people?"
"I don't know; I went up the hill and saw their boats going away--
far away out. This was lying on the sand."
"Dick," said Emmeline, "do you remember the noise yesterday?"
"Yes," said Dick.
"I heard it in the night."
"In the night before the moon went away."
"That was them," said Dick.
"Who were they?"
"I don't know," replied Dick.
"It was in the night, before the moon went away, and it went on
and on beating in the trees. I thought I was asleep, and then I
knew I was awake; you were asleep, and I pushed you to listen,
but you couldn't wake, you were so asleep; then the moon went
away, and the noise went on. How did they make the noise?"
"I don't know," replied Dick, "but it was them; and they left this
on the sand, and the sand was all trod up, and I saw their boats
from the hill, away out far."
"I thought I heard voices," said Emmeline, "but I was not sure."
She fell into meditation, watching her companion at work on the
savage and sinister-looking thing in his hands. He was splicing
the two pieces together with a strip of the brown cloth-like stuff
which is wrapped round the stalks of the cocoa-palm fronds. The
thing seemed to have been hurled here out of the blue by some
unseen hand.
When he had spliced the pieces, doing so with marvellous
dexterity, he took the thing short down near the point, and began
thrusting it into the soft earth to clean it; then, with a bit of
flannel, he polished it till it shone. He felt a keen delight in it. It
was useless as a fish-spear, because it had no barb, but it was a
weapon. It was useless as a weapon, because there was no foe on
the island to use it against; still, it was a weapon.
When he had finished scrubbing at it, he rose, hitched his old
trousers up, tightened the belt of cocoa-cloth which Emmeline
had made for him, went into the house and got his fish-spear, and
stalked off to the boat, calling out to Emmeline to follow him.
They crossed over to the reef, where, as usual, he divested
himself of clothing.
It was strange that out here he would go about stark naked, yet on
the island he always wore some covering. But not so strange,
perhaps, after all.
The sea is a great purifier, both of the mind and the body; before
that great sweet spirit people do not think in the same way as
they think far inland. What woman would appear in a town or on a
country road, or even bathing in a river, as she appears bathing in
the sea?
Some instinct made Dick cover himself up on shore, and strip
naked on the reef. In a minute he was down by the edge of the
surf, javelin in one hand, fish-spear in the other.
Emmeline, by a little pool the bottom of which was covered with
branching coral, sat gazing down into its depths, lost in a reverie
like that into which we fall when gazing at shapes in the fire. She
had sat some time like this when a shout from Dick aroused her.
She started to her feet and gazed to where he was pointing. An
amazing thing was there.
To the east, just rounding the curve of the reef, and scarcely a
quarter of a mile from it, was coming a big topsail schooner; a
beautiful sight she was, heeling to the breeze with every sail
drawing, and the white foam like a feather at her fore-foot.
Dick, with the javelin in his hand, was standing gazing at her; he
had dropped his fishspear, and he stood as motionless as though
he were carved out of stone. Emmeline ran to him and stood
beside him; neither of them spoke a word as the vessel drew
Everything was visible, so close was she now, from the reef
points on the great mainsail, luminous with the sunlight, and
white as the wing of a gull, to the rail of the bulwarks. A crowd
of men were hanging over the port bulwarks gazing at the island
and the figures on the reef. Browned by the sun and sea-breeze,
Emmeline's hair blowing on the wind, and the point of Dick's
javelin flashing in the sun, they looked an ideal pair of savages,
seen from the schooner's deck.
"They are going away," said Emmeline, with a long-drawn breath
of relief.
Dick made no reply; he stared at the schooner a moment longer in
silence, then, having made sure that she was standing away from
the land, he began to run up and down, calling out wildly, and
beckoning to the vessel as if to call her back.
A moment later a sound came on the breeze, a faint hail; a flag
was run up to the peak and dipped as in derision, and the vessel
continued on her course.
As a matter of fact, she had been on the point of putting about.
Her captain had for a moment been undecided as to whether the
forms on the reef were those of castaways or savages. But the
javelin in Dick's hand had turned the scale of his opinion in favour
of the theory of savages.
Two birds were sitting in the branches of the artu tree: Koko had
taken a mate. They had built a nest out of fibres pulled from the
wrappings of the cocoa-nut fronds, bits of stick and wire grass--
anything, in fact; even fibres from the palmetto thatch of the
house below. The pilferings of birds, the building of nests, what
charming incidents they are in the great episode of spring!
The hawthorn tree never bloomed here, the climate was that of
eternal summer, yet the spirit of May came just as she comes to
the English countryside or the German forest. The doings in the
artu branches greatly interested Emmeline.
The love-making and the nest-building were conducted quite in
the usual manner, according to rules laid down by Nature and
carried out by men and birds. All sorts of quaint sounds came
filtering down through the leaves from the branch where the
sapphire-coloured lovers sat side by side, or the fork where the
nest was beginning to form: croonings and cluckings, sounds like
the flirting of a fan, the sounds of a squabble, followed by the
sounds that told of the squabble made up. Sometimes after one of
these squabbles a pale blue downy feather or two would come
floating earthwards, touch the palmetto leaves of the house-roof
and cling there, or be blown on to the grass.
It was some days after the appearance of the schooner, and Dick
was making ready to go into the woods and pick guavas. He had all
the morning been engaged in making a basket to carry them in. In
civilisation he would, judging from his mechanical talent,
perhaps have been an engineer, building bridges and ships, instead
of palmetto-leaf baskets and cane houses--who knows if he would
have been happier?
The heat of midday had passed, when, with the basket hanging
over his shoulder on a piece of cane, he started for the woods,
Emmeline following. The place they were going to always filled
her with a vague dread; not for a great deal would she have gone
there alone. Dick had discovered it in one of his rambles.
They entered the wood and passed a little well, a well without
apparent source or outlet and a bottom of fine white sand. How
the sand had formed there, it would be impossible to say; but
there it was, and around the margin grew ferns redoubling
themselves on the surface of the crystal-clear water. They left
this to the right and struck into the heart of the wood. The heat of
midday still lurked here; the way was clear, for there was a sort
of path between the trees, as if, in very ancient days, there had
been a road.
Right across this path, half lost in shadow, half sunlit, the lianas
hung their ropes. The hotoo tree, with its powdering of delicate
blossoms, here stood, showing its lost loveliness to the sun; in
the shade the scarlet hibiscus burned like a flame. Artu and
breadfruit trees and cocoa-nut bordered the way.
As they proceeded the trees grew denser and the path more
obscure. All at once, rounding a sharp turn, the path ended in a
valley carpeted with fern. This was the place that always filled
Emmeline with an undefined dread. One side of it was all built up
in terraces with huge blocks of stone--blocks of stone so
enormous, that the wonder was how the ancient builders had put
them in their places.
Trees grew along the terraces, thrusting their roots between the
interstices of the blocks. At their base, slightly tilted forward as
if with the sinkage of years, stood a great stone figure roughly
carved, thirty feet high at least--mysterious-looking, the very
spirit of the place. This figure and the terraces, the valley itself,
and the very trees that grew there, inspired Emmeline with deep
curiosity and vague fear.
People had been here once; sometimes she could fancy she saw
dark shadows moving amidst the trees, and the whisper of the
foliage seemed to her to hide voices at times, even as its shadow
concealed forms. It was indeed an uncanny place to be alone in
even under the broad light of day. All across the Pacific for
thousands of miles you find relics of the past, like these
scattered through the islands.
These temple places are nearly all the same: great terraces of
stone, massive idols, desolation overgrown with foliage. They
hint at one religion, and a time when the sea space of the Pacific
was a continent, which, sinking slowly through the ages, has left
only its higher lands and hill-tops visible in the form of islands.
Round these places the woods are thicker than elsewhere, hinting
at the presence there, once, of sacred groves. The idols are
immense, their faces are vague; the storms and the suns and the
rains of the ages have cast over them a veil. The sphinx is
understandable and a toy compared to these things, some of which
have a stature of fifty feet, whose creation is veiled in absolute
mystery--the gods of a people for ever and for ever lost.
The "stone man" was the name Emmeline had given the idol of the
valley; and sometimes at nights, when her thoughts would stray
that way, she would picture him standing all alone in the
moonlight or starlight staring straight before him.
He seemed for ever listening; unconsciously one fell to listening
too, and then the valley seemed steeped in a supernatural silence.
He was not good to be alone with.
Emmeline sat down amidst the fears just at his base. When one
was close up to him he lost the suggestion of life, and was simply
a great stone which cast a shadow in the sun.
Dick threw himself down also to rest. Then he rose up and went
off amidst the guava bushes, plucking the fruit and filling his
basket. Since he had seen the schooner, the white men on her
decks, her great masts and sails, and general appearance of
freedom and speed and unknown adventure, he had been more than
ordinarily glum and restless. Perhaps he connected her in his mind
with the far-away vision of the Northumberland, and the idea
of other places and lands, and the yearning for change [that] the idea of
them inspired.
He came back with his basket full of the ripe fruit, gave some to
the girl and sat down beside her. When she had finished eating
them she took the cane that he used for carrying the basket and
held it in her hands. She was bending it in the form of a bow when
it slipped, flew out and struck her companion a sharp blow on the
side of his face.
Almost on the instant he turned and slapped her on the shoulder.
She stared at him for a moment in troubled amazement, a sob
came in her throat. Then some veil seemed lifted, some wizard's
wand stretched out, some mysterious vial broken. As she looked
at him like that, he suddenly and fiercely clasped her in his arms.
He held her like this for a moment, dazed, stupefied, not knowing
what to do with her. Then her lips told him, for they met his in an
endless kiss.
The moon rose up that evening and shot her silver arrows at the
house under the artu tree. The house was empty. Then the moon
came across the sea and across the reef.
She lit the lagoon to its dark, dim heart. She lit the coral brains
and sand spaces, and the fish, casting their shadows on the sand
and the coral. The keeper of the lagoon rose to greet her, and the
fin of him broke her reflection on the mirror-like surface into a
thousand glittering ripples. She saw the white staring ribs of the
form on the reef. Then, peeping over the trees, she looked down
into the valley, where the great idol of stone had kept its solitary
vigil for five thousand years, perhaps, or more.
At his base, in his shadow, looking as if under his protection, lay
two human beings, naked, clasped in each other's arms, and fast
asleep. One could scarcely pity his vigil, had it been marked
sometimes through the years by such an incident as this. The
thing had been conducted just as the birds conduct their love
affairs. An affair absolutely natural, absolutely blameless, and
without sin.
It was a marriage according to Nature, without feast or guests,
consummated with accidental cynicism under the shadow of a
religion a thousand years dead.
So happy in their ignorance were they, that they only knew that
suddenly life had changed, that the skies and the sea were bluer,
and that they had become in some magical way one a part of the
other. The birds on the tree above were equally as happy in their
ignorance, and in their love.
One day Dick climbed on to the tree above the house, and, driving
Madame Koko off the nest upon which she was sitting, peeped in.
There were several pale green eggs in it. He did not disturb them,
but climbed down again, and the bird resumed her seat as if
nothing had happened. Such an occurrence would have terrified a
bird used to the ways of men, but here the birds were so fearless
and so full of confidence that often they would follow Emmeline
in the wood, flying from branch to branch, peering at her through
the leaves, lighting quite close to her--once, even, on her
The days passed. Dick had lost his restlessness: his wish to
wander had vanished. He had no reason to wander; perhaps that
was the reason why. In all the broad earth he could not have found
anything more desirable than what he had.
Instead now of finding a half-naked savage followed dog-like by
his mate, you would have found of an evening a pair of lovers
wandering on the reef. They had in a pathetic sort of way
attempted to adorn the house with a blue flowering creeper taken
from the wood and trained over the entrance.
Emmeline, up to this, had mostly done the cooking, such as it was;
Dick helped her now, always. He talked to her no longer in short
sentences flung out as if to a dog; and she, almost losing the
strange reserve that had clung to her from childhood, half showed
him her mind. It was a curious mind: the mind of a dreamer,
almost the mind of a poet. The Cluricaunes dwelt there, and vague
shapes born of things she had heard about or dreamt of: she had
thoughts about the sea and stars, the flowers and birds.
Dick would listen to her as she talked, as a man might listen to
the sound of a rivulet. His practical mind could take no share in
the dreams of his other half, but her conversation pleased him.
He would look at her for a long time together, absorbed in thought.
He was admiring her.
Her hair, blue-black and glossy, tangled him in its meshes; he
would stroke it, so to speak, with his eyes, and then pull her
close to him and bury his face in it; the smell of it was
intoxicating. He breathed her as one does the perfume of a rose.
Her ears were small, and like little white shells. He would take
one between finger and thumb and play with it as if it were a toy,
pulling at the lobe of it, or trying to flatten out the curved part.
Her breasts, her shoulders, her knees, her little feet, every bit of
her, he would examine and play with and kiss. She would lie and
let him, seeming absorbed in some far-away thought, of which he
was the object, then all at once her arms would go round him. All
this used to go on in the broad light of day, under the shadow of
the artu leaves, with no one to watch except the bright-eyed
birds in the leaves above.
Not all their time would be spent in this fashion. Dick was just as
keen after the fish. He dug up with a spade--improvised from one
of the boards of the dinghy--a space of soft earth near the taro
patch and planted the seeds of melons he found in the wood; he
rethatched the house. They were, in short, as busy as they could
be in such a climate, but love-making would come on them in fits,
and then everything would be forgotten. Just as one revisits some
spot to renew the memory of a painful or pleasant experience
received there, they would return to the valley of the idol and
spend a whole afternoon in its shade. The absolute happiness of
wandering through the woods together, discovering new flowers,
getting lost, and finding their way again, was a thing beyond
Dick had suddenly stumbled upon Love. His courtship had lasted
only some twenty minutes; it was being gone over again now, and
One day, hearing a curious noise from the tree above the house, he
climbed it. The noise came from the nest, which had been
temporarily left by the mother bird. It was a gasping, wheezing
sound, and it came from four wide-open beaks, so anxious to be
fed that one could almost see into the very crops of the owners.
They were Koko's children. In another year each of those ugly
downy things would, if permitted to live, be a beautiful sapphirecoloured
bird with a few dove-coloured tail feathers, coral beak,
and bright, intelligent eyes. A few days ago each of these things
was imprisoned in a pale green egg. A month ago they were
Something hit Dick on the cheek. It was the mother bird returned
with food for the young ones. Dick drew his head aside, and she
proceeded without more ado to fill their crops.
Months passed away. Only one bird remained in the branches of the
artu: Koko's children and mate had vanished, but he remained. The
breadfruit leaves had turned from green to pale gold and darkest
amber, and now the new green leaves were being presented to the
Dick, who had a complete chart of the lagoon in his head, and
knew all the soundings and best fishing places, the locality of the
stinging coral, and the places where you could wade right across
at low tide--Dick, one morning, was gathering his things together
for a fishing expedition. The place he was going to lay some two
and a half miles away across the island, and as the road was bad
he was going alone.
Emmeline had been passing a new thread through the beads of the
necklace she sometimes wore. This necklace had a history. In the
shallows not far away, Dick had found a bed of shell-fish; wading
out at low tide, he had taken some of them out to examine. They
were oysters. The first one he opened, so disgusting did its
appearance seem to him, might have been the last, only that under
the beard of the thing lay a pearl. It was about twice the size of a
large pea, and so lustrous that even he could not but admire its
beauty, though quite unconscious of its value.
He flung the unopened oysters down, and took the thing to
Emmeline. Next day, returning by chance to the same spot, he
found the oysters he had cast down all dead and open in the sun.
He examined them, and found another pearl embedded in one of
them. Then he collected nearly a bushel of the oysters, and left
them to die and open. The idea had occurred to him of making a
necklace for his companion. She had one made of shells, he
intended to make her one of pearls.
It took a long time, but it was something to do. He pierced them
with a big needle, and at the end of four months or so the thing
was complete. Great pearls most of them were--pure white,
black, pink, some perfectly round, some tear shaped, some
irregular. The thing was worth fifteen, or perhaps twenty
thousand pounds, for he only used the biggest he could find,
casting away the small ones as useless.
Emmeline this morning had just finished restringing them on a
double thread. She looked pale and not at all well and had been
restless all night.
As he went off, armed with his spear and fishing tackle, she
waved her hand to him without getting up. Usually she followed
him a bit into the wood when he was going away like this, but
this morning she just sat at the doorway of the little house, the
necklace in her lap, following him with her eyes until he was lost
amidst the trees.
He had no compass to guide him, and he needed none. He knew the
woods by heart. The mysterious line beyond which scarcely an
artu tree was to be found. The long strip of mammee apple--a
regular sheet of it a hundred yards broad, and reaching from the
middle of the island right down to the lagoon. The clearings, some
almost circular where the ferns grew knee-deep. Then he came to
the bad part.
The vegetation here had burst into a riot. All sorts of great sappy
stalks of unknown plants barred the way and tangled the foot; and
there were boggy places into which one sank horribly. Pausing to
wipe one's brow, the stalks and tendrils one had beaten down, or
beaten aside, rose up and closed together, making one a prisoner
almost as closely surrounded as a fly in amber.
All the noontides that had ever fallen upon the island seemed to
have left some of their heat behind them here. The air was damp
and close like the air of a laundry; and the mournful and perpetual
buzz of insects filled the silence without destroying it.
A hundred men with scythes might make a road through the place
to-day; a month or two later, searching for the road, you would
find none--the vegetation would have closed in as water closes
when divided.
This was the haunt of the jug orchid--a veritable jug, lid and all.
Raising the lid you would find the jug half filled with water.
Sometimes in the tangle up above, between two trees, you would
see a thing like a bird come to ruin. Orchids grew here as in a
hothouse. All the trees--the few there were--had a spectral and
miserable appearance. They were half starved by the voluptuous
growth of the gigantic weeds.
If one had much imagination one felt afraid in this place, for one
felt not alone. At any moment it seemed that one might be
touched on the elbow by a hand reaching out from the surrounding
tangle. Even Dick felt this, unimaginative and fearless as he was.
It took him nearly three-quarters of an hour to get through, and
then, at last, came the blessed air of real day, and a glimpse of
the lagoon between the tree-boles.
He would have rowed round in the dinghy, only that at low tide the
shallows of the north of the island were a bar to the boat's
passage. Of course he might have rowed all the way round by way
of the strand and reef entrance, but that would have meant a
circuit of six miles or more. When he came between the trees
down to the lagoon edge it was about eleven o'clock in the
morning, and the tide was nearly at the full.
The lagoon just here was like a trough, and the reef was very
near, scarcely a quarter of a mile from the shore. The water did
not shelve, it went down sheer fifty fathoms or more, and one
could fish from the bank just as from a pier head. He had brought
some food with him, and he placed it under a tree whilst he
prepared his line, which had a lump of coral for a sinker. He
baited the hook, and whirling the sinker round in the air sent it
flying out a hundred feet from shore. There was a baby cocoa-nut
tree growing just at the edge of the water. He fastened the end of
his line round the narrow stem, in case of eventualities, and then,
holding the line itself, he fished.
He had promised Emmeline to return before sundown.
He was a fisherman. That is to say, a creature with the enduring
patience of a cat, tireless and heedless of time as an oyster. He
came here for sport more than for fish. Large things were to be
found in this part of the lagoon. The last time he had hooked a
horror in the form of a cat-fish; at least in outward appearance it
was likest to a Mississippi cat-fish. Unlike the cat-fish, it was
coarse and useless as food, but it gave good sport.
The tide was now going out, and it was at the going-out of the
tide that the best fishing was to be had. There was no wind, and
the lagoon lay like a sheet of glass, with just a dimple here and
there where the outgoing tide made a swirl in the water.
As he fished he thought of Emmeline and the little house under
the trees. Scarcely one could call it thinking. Pictures passed
before his mind's eye--pleasant and happy pictures, sunlit,
moonlit, starlit.
Three hours passed thus without a bite or symptom that the
lagoon contained anything else but sea-water, and
disappointment; but he did not grumble. He was a fisherman. Then
he left the line tied to the tree and sat down to eat the food he
had brought with him. He had scarcely finished his meal when the
baby cocoa-nut tree shivered and became convulsed, and he did
not require to touch the taut line to know that it was useless to
attempt to cope with the thing at the end of it. The only course
was to let it tug and drown itself. So he sat down and watched.
After a few minutes the line slackened, and the little cocoa-nut
tree resumed its attitude of pensive meditation and repose. He
pulled the line up: there was nothing at the end of it but a hook. He
did not grumble; he baited the hook again, and flung it in, for it
was quite likely that the ferocious thing in the water would bite
Full of this idea and heedless of time he fished and waited. The
sun was sinking into the west--he did not heed it. He had quite
forgotten that he had promised Emmeline to return before sunset;
it was nearly sunset now. Suddenly, just behind him, from among
the trees, he heard her voice, crying:
He dropped the line, and turned with a start. There was no one
visible. He ran amongst the trees calling out her name, but only
echoes answered. Then he came back to the lagoon edge.
He felt sure that what he had heard was only fancy, but it was
nearly sunset, and more than time to be off. He pulled in his line,
wrapped it up, took his fish-spear and started.
It was just in the middle of the bad place that dread came to him.
What if anything had happened to her? It was dusk here, and never
had the weeds seemed so thick, dimness so dismal, the tendrils of
the vines so gin-like. Then he lost his way--he who was so sure
of his way always! The hunter's instinct had been crossed, and for
a time he went hither and thither helpless as a ship without a
compass. At last he broke into the real wood, but far to the right
of where he ought to have been. He felt like a beast escaped from
a trap, and hurried along, led by the sound of the surf.
When he reached the clear sward that led down to the lagoon the
sun had just vanished beyond the sea-line. A streak of red cloud
floated like the feather of a flamingo in the western sky close to
the sea, and twilight had already filled the world. He could see
the house dimly, under the shadow of the trees, and he ran
towards it, crossing the sward diagonally.
Always before, when he had been away, the first thing to greet
his eyes on his return had been the figure of Emmeline. Either at
the lagoon edge or the house door he would find her waiting for
She was not waiting for him to-night. When he reached the house
she was not there, and he paused, after searching the place, a
prey to the most horrible perplexity, and unable for the moment
to think or act.
Since the shock of the occurrence on the reef she had been
subjected at times to occasional attacks of headache; and when
the pain was more than she could bear she would go off and hide.
Dick would hunt for her amidst the trees, calling out her name and
hallooing. A faint "halloo" would answer when she heard him, and
then he would find her under a tree or bush, with her unfortunate
head between her hands, a picture of misery.
He remembered this now, and started off along the borders of the
wood, calling to her, and pausing to listen. No answer came.
He searched amidst the trees as far as the little well, waking the
echoes with his voice; then he came back slowly, peering about
him in the deep dusk that now was yielding to the starlight. He
sat down before the door of the house, and, looking at him, you
might have fancied him in the last stages of exhaustion. Profound
grief and profound exhaustion act on the frame very much in the
same way. He sat with his chin resting on his chest, his hands
helpless. He could hear her voice, still as he heard it over at the
other side of the island. She had been in danger and called to him,
and he had been calmly fishing, unconscious of it all.
This thought maddened him. He sat up, stared around him and beat
the ground with the palms of his hands; then he sprang to his feet
and made for the dinghy. He rowed to the reef: the action of a
madman, for she could not possibly be there.
There was no moon, the starlight both lit and veiled the world,
and no sound but the majestic thunder of the waves. As he stood,
the night wind blowing on his face, the white foam seething
before him, and Canopus burning in the great silence overhead, the
fact that he stood in the centre of an awful and profound
indifference came to his untutored mind with a pang.
He returned to the shore: the house was still deserted. A little
bowl made from the shell of a cocoa-nut stood on the grass near
the doorway. He had last seen it in her hands, and he took it up and
held it for a moment, pressing it tightly to his breast. Then he
threw himself down before the doorway, and lay upon his face,
with head resting upon his arms in the attitude of a person who is
profoundly asleep.
He must have searched through the woods again that night just as
a somnambulist searches, for he found himself towards dawn in
the valley before the idol. Then it was daybreak--the world was
full of light and colour. He was seated before the house door,
worn out and exhausted, when, raising his head, he saw
Emmeline's figure coming out from amidst the distant trees on
the other side of the sward.
He could not move for a moment, then he sprang to his feet and
ran towards her. She looked pale and dazed, and she held
something in her arms; something wrapped up in her scarf. As he
pressed her to him, the something in the bundle struggled against
his breast and emitted a squall--just like the squall of a cat. He
drew back, and Emmeline, tenderly moving her scarf a bit aside,
exposed a wee face. It was brick-red and wrinkled; there were
two bright eyes, and a tuft of dark hair over the forehead. Then
the eyes closed, the face screwed itself up, and the thing sneezed
"Where did you GET it?" he asked, absolutely lost in astonishment
as she covered the face again gently with the scarf.
"I found it in the woods," replied Emmeline.
Dumb with amazement, he helped her along to the house, and she
sat down, resting her head against the bamboos of the wall.
"I felt so bad," she explained; "and then I went off to sit in the
woods, and then I remembered nothing more, and when I woke up
it was there."
"It's a baby!" said Dick.
"I know," replied Emmeline.
Mrs James's baby, seen in the long ago, had risen up before their
mind's eyes, a messenger from the past to explain what the new
thing was. Then she told him things--things that completely
shattered the old "cabbage bed" theory, supplanting it with a truth
far more wonderful, far more poetical, too, to he who can
appreciate the marvel and the mystery of life.
"It has something funny tied on to it," she went on, as if she were
referring to a parcel she had just received.
"Let's look," said Dick.
"No," she replied; "leave it alone."
She sat rocking the thing gently, seeming oblivious to the whole
world, and quite absorbed in it, as, indeed, was Dick. A physician
would have shuddered, but, perhaps fortunately enough, there was
no physician on the island. Only Nature, and she put everything to
rights in her own time and way.
When Dick had sat marvelling long enough, he set to and lit the
fire. He had eaten nothing since the day before, and he was nearly
as exhausted as the girl. He cooked some breadfruit, there was
some cold fish left over from the day before; this, with some
bananas, he served up on two broad leaves, making Emmeline eat
Before they had finished, the creature in the bundle, as though it
had smelt the food, began to scream. Emmeline drew the scarf
aside. It looked hungry; its mouth would now be pinched up and
now wide open, its eyes opened and closed. The girl touched it on
the lips with her finger, and it seized upon her fingertip and
sucked it. Her eyes filled with tears, she looked appealingly at
Dick, who was on his knees; he took a banana, peeled it, broke off
a bit and handed it to her. She approached it to the baby's mouth.
It tried to suck it, failed, blew bubbles at the sun and squalled.
"Wait a minute," said Dick.
There were some green cocoa-nuts he had gathered the day before
close by. He took one, removed the green husk, and opened one of
the eyes, making an opening also in the opposite side of the shell.
The unfortunate infant sucked ravenously at the nut, filled its
stomach with the young cocoa-nut juice, vomited violently, and
wailed. Emmeline in despair clasped it to her naked breast,
wherefrom, in a moment, it was hanging like a leech. It knew
more about babies than they did.
At noon, in the shallows of the reef, under the burning sun, the
water would be quite warm. They would carry the baby down here,
and Emmeline would wash it with a bit of flannel. After a few
days it scarcely ever screamed, even when she washed it. It
would lie on her knees during the process, striking valiantly out
with its arms and legs, staring straight up at the sky. Then when
she turned it on its face, it would lay its head down and chuckle,
and blow bubbles at the coral of the reef, examining, apparently,
the pattern of the coral with deep and philosophic attention.
Dick would sit by with his knees up to his chin, watching it all. He
felt himself to be part proprietor in the thing--as, indeed, he
was. The mystery of the affair still hung over them both. A week
ago they two had been alone, and suddenly from nowhere this new
individual had appeared.
It was so complete. It had hair on its head, tiny finger-nails, and
hands that would grasp you. It had a whole host of little ways of
its own, and every day added to them.
In a week the extreme ugliness of the newborn child had vanished.
Its face, which had seemed carved in the imitation of a monkey's
face from half a brick, became the face of a happy and healthy
baby. It seemed to see things, and sometimes it would laugh and
chuckle as though it had been told a good joke. Its black hair all
came off and was supplanted by a sort of down. It had no teeth. It
would lie on its back and kick and crow, and double its fists up
and try to swallow them alternately, and cross its feet and play
with its toes. In fact, it was exactly like any of the thousandand-
one babies that are born into the world at every tick of the
"What will we call it?" said Dick one day, as he sat watching his
son and heir crawling about on the grass under the shade of the
breadfruit leaves.
"Hannah," said Emmeline promptly.
The recollection of another baby once heard about was in her
mind, and it was as good a name as any other, perhaps, in that
lonely place, notwithstanding the fact that Hannah was a boy.
Koko took a vast interest in the new arrival. He would hop round it
and peer at it with his head on one side; and Hannah would crawl
after the bird and try to grab it by the tail. In a few months so
valiant and strong did he become that he would pursue his own
father, crawling behind him on the grass, and you might have seen
the mother and father and child playing all together like three
children, the bird sometimes hovering overhead like a good spirit,
sometimes joining in the fun.
Sometimes Emmeline would sit and brood over the child, a
troubled expression on her face and a far-away look in her eyes.
The old vague fear of mischance had returned--the dread of that
viewless form her imagination half pictured behind the smile on
the face of Nature. Her happiness was so great that she dreaded to
lose it.
There is nothing more wonderful than the birth of a man, and all
that goes to bring it about. Here, on this island, in the very heart
of the sea, amidst the sunshine and the wind-blown trees, under
the great blue arch of the sky, in perfect purity of thought, they
would discuss the question from beginning to end without a blush,
the object of their discussion crawling before them on the grass,
and attempting to grab feathers from Koko's tail.
It was the loneliness of the place as well as their ignorance of
life that made the old, old miracle appear so strange and fresh--
as beautiful as the miracle of death had appeared awful. In
thoughts vague and beyond expression in words, they linked this
new occurrence with that old occurrence on the reef six years
before. The vanishing and the coming of a man.
Hannah, despite his unfortunate name, was certainly a most virile
and engaging baby. The black hair which had appeared and vanished
like some practical joke played by Nature, gave place to a down at
first as yellow as sun-bleached wheat, but in a few months' time
tinged with auburn.
One day--he had been uneasy and biting at his thumbs for some
time past--Emmeline, looking into his mouth, saw something
white and like a grain of rice protruding from his gum. It was a
tooth just born. He could eat bananas now, and breadfruit, and
they often fed him on fish--a fact which again might have caused
a medical man to shudder; yet he throve on it all, and waxed
stouter every day.
Emmeline, with a profound and natural wisdom, let him crawl
about stark naked, dressed in ozone and sunlight. Taking him out
on the reef, she would let him paddle in the shallow pools, holding
him under the armpits whilst he splashed the diamond-bright
water into spray with his feet, and laughed and shouted.
They were beginning now to experience a phenomenon, as
wonderful as the birth of the child's body--the birth of his
intelligence, the peeping out of a little personality with
predilections of its own, likes and dislikes.
He knew Dick from Emmeline; and when Emmeline had satisfied
his material wants, he would hold out his arms to go to Dick if he
were by. He looked upon Koko as a friend, but when a friend of
Koko's--a bird with an inquisitive mind and three red feathers in
his tail--dropped in one day to inspect the newcomer, he resented
the intrusion, and screamed.
He had a passion for flowers, or anything bright. He would laugh
and shout when taken on the lagoon in the dinghy, and make as if
to jump into the water to get at the bright-coloured corals below.
Ah me, we laugh at young mothers, and all the miraculous things
they tell us about their babies! They see what we cannot see: the
first unfolding of that mysterious flower, the mind.
One day they were out on the lagoon. Dick had been rowing; he had
ceased, and was letting the boat drift for a bit. Emmeline was
dancing the child on her knee, when it suddenly held out its arms
to the oarsman and said:
The little word, so often heard and easily repeated, was its first
word on earth.
A voice that had never spoken in the world before had spoken; and
to hear his name thus mysteriously uttered by a being he has
created is the sweetest and perhaps the saddest thing a man can
ever know.
Dick took the child on his knee, and from that moment his love for
it was more than his love for Emmeline or anything else on earth.
Ever since the tragedy of six years ago there had been forming in
the mind of Emmeline Lestrange a something--shall I call it a
deep mistrust? She had never been clever; lessons had saddened
and wearied her, without making her much the wiser. Yet her mind
was of that order into which profound truths come by short-cuts.
She was intuitive.
Great knowledge may lurk in the human mind without the owner of
the mind being aware. He or she acts in such or such a way, or
thinks in such and such a manner from intuition; in other words,
as the outcome of the profoundest reasoning.
When we have learnt to call storms, storms, and death, death, and
birth, birth, when we have mastered the sailor's horn-book, and
Mr Piddington's law of cyclones, Ellis's anatomy, and Lewer's
midwifery, we have already made ourself half blind. We have
become hypnotized by words and names. We think in words and
names, not in ideas; the commonplace has triumphed, the true
intellect is half crushed.
Storms had burst over the island before this. And what Emmeline
remembered of them might be expressed by an instance.
The morning would be bright and happy, never so bright the sun, or
so balmy the breeze, or so peaceful the blue lagoon; then, with a
horrid suddenness, as if sick with dissimulation and mad to show
itself, something would blacken the sun, and with a yell stretch
out a hand and ravage the island, churn the lagoon into foam, beat
down the coconut trees, and slay the birds. And one bird would be
left and another taken, one tree destroyed and another left
standing. The fury of the thing was less fearful than the blindness
of it, and the indifference of it.
One night, when the child was asleep, just after the last star was
lit, Dick appeared at the doorway of the house. He had been down
to the water's edge and had now returned. He beckoned Emmeline
to follow him, and, putting down the child, she did so.
"Come here and look," said he.
He led the way to the water; and as they approached it Emmeline
became aware that there was something strange about the lagoon.
From a distance it looked pale and solid; it might have been a
great stretch of grey marble veined with black. Then, as she drew
nearer, she saw that the dull grey appearance was a deception of
the eye.
The lagoon was alight and burning.
The phosphoric fire was in its very heart and being; every coral
branch was a torch, every fish a passing lantern. The incoming
tide moving the waters made the whole glittering floor of the
lagoon move and shiver, and the tiny waves to lap the bank,
leaving behind them glow-worm traces.
"Look!" said Dick.
He knelt down and plunged his forearm into the water. The
immersed part burned like a smouldering torch. Emmeline could
see it as plainly as though it were lit by sunlight. Then he drew
his arm out, and as far as the water had reached, it was covered
by a glowing glove.
They had seen the phosphorescence of the lagoon before; indeed,
any night you might watch the passing fish like bars of silver,
when the moon was away; but this was something quite new, and
it was entrancing.
Emmeline knelt down and dabbled her hands, and made herself a
pair of phosphoric gloves, and cried out with pleasure, and
laughed. It was all the pleasure of playing with fire without the
danger of being burnt. Then Dick rubbed his face with the water
till it glowed.
"Wait!" he cried; and, running up to the house, he fetched out
He came running down with him to the water's edge, gave
Emmeline the child, unmoored the boat, and started out from
The sculls, as far as they were immersed, were like bars of
glistening silver; under them passed the fish, leaving cometic
tails; each coral clump was a lamp, lending its lustre till the
great lagoon was luminous as a lit-up ballroom. Even the child on
Emmeline's lap crowed and cried out at the strangeness of the
They landed on the reef and wandered over the flat. The sea was
white and bright as snow, and the foam looked like a hedge of
As they stood gazing on this extraordinary sight, suddenly, almost
as instantaneously as the switching off of an electric light, the
phosphorescence of the sea flickered and vanished.
The moon was rising. Her crest was just breaking from the water,
and as her face came slowly into view behind a belt of vapour
that lay on the horizon, it looked fierce and red, stained with
smoke like the face of Eblis.
When they awoke next morning the day was dark. A solid roof of
cloud, lead-coloured and without a ripple on it, lay over the sky,
almost to the horizon. There was not a breath of wind, and the
birds flew wildly about as if disturbed by some unseen enemy in
the wood.
As Dick lit the fire to prepare the breakfast, Emmeline walked up
and down, holding her baby to her breast; she felt restless and
As the morning wore on the darkness increased; a breeze rose up,
and the leaves of the breadfruit trees pattered together with the
sound of rain falling upon glass. A storm was coming, but there
was something different in its approach to the approach of the
storms they had already known.
As the breeze increased a sound filled the air, coming from far
away beyond the horizon. It was like the sound of a great
multitude of people, and yet so faint and vague was it that sudden
bursts of the breeze through the leaves above would drown it
utterly. Then it ceased, and nothing could be heard but the rocking
of the branches and the tossing of the leaves under the increasing
wind, which was now blowing sharply and fiercely and with a
steady rush dead from the west, fretting the lagoon, and sending
clouds and masses of foam right over the reef. The sky that had
been so leaden and peaceful and like a solid roof was now all in a
hurry, flowing eastward like a great turbulent river in spate.
And now, again, one could hear the sound in the distance-- the
thunder of the captains of the storm and the shouting; but still so
faint, so vague, so indeterminate and unearthly that it seemed
like the sound in a dream.
Emmeline sat amidst the ferns on the floor cowed and dumb,
holding the baby to her breast. It was fast asleep. Dick stood at
the doorway. He was disturbed in mind, but he did not show it.
The whole beautiful island world had now taken on the colour of
ashes and the colour of lead. Beauty had utterly vanished, all
seemed sadness and distress.
The cocoa-palms, under the wind that had lost its steady rush and
was now blowing in hurricane blasts, flung themselves about in
all the attitudes of distress; and whoever has seen a tropical
storm will know what a cocoa-palm can express by its
movements under the lash of the wind.
Fortunately the house was so placed that it was protected by the
whole depth of the grove between it and the lagoon; and
fortunately, too, it was sheltered by the dense foliage of the
breadfruit, for suddenly, with a crash of thunder as if the hammer
of Thor had been flung from sky to earth, the clouds split and the
rain came down in a great slanting wave. It roared on the foliage
above, which, bending leaf on leaf, made a slanting roof from
which it rushed in a steady sheet-like cascade.
Dick had darted into the house, and was now sitting beside
Emmeline, who was shivering and holding the child, which had
awakened at the sound of the thunder.
For an hour they sat, the rain ceasing and coming again, the
thunder shaking earth and sea, and the wind passing overhead
with a piercing, monotonous cry.
Then all at once the wind dropped, the rain ceased, and a pale
spectral light, like the light of dawn, fell before the doorway.
"It's over!" cried Dick, making to get up.
"Oh, listen!" said Emmeline, clinging to him, and holding the baby
to his breast as if the touch of him would give it protection. She
had divined that there was something approaching worse than a
Then, listening in the silence, away from the other side of the
island, they heard a sound like the droning of a great top.
It was the centre of the cyclone approaching.
A cyclone is a circular storm: a storm in the form of a ring. This
ring of hurricane travels across the ocean with inconceivable
speed and fury, yet its centre is a haven of peace.
As they listened the sound increased, sharpened, and became a
tang that pierced the ear-drums: a sound that shook with hurry
and speed, increasing, bringing with it the bursting and crashing
of trees, and breaking at last overhead in a yell that stunned the
brain like the blow of a bludgeon. In a second the house was torn
away, and they were clinging to the roots of the breadfruit, deaf,
blinded, half-lifeless.
The terror and the prolonged shock of it reduced them from
thinking beings to the level of frightened animals whose one
instinct is preservation.
How long the horror lasted they could not tell, when, like a
madman who pauses for a moment in the midst of his struggles
and stands stock-still, the wind ceased blowing, and there was
peace. The centre of the cyclone was passing over the island.
Looking up, one saw a marvellous sight. The air was full of birds,
butterflies, insects--all hanging in the heart of the storm and
travelling with it under its protection.
Though the air was still as the air of a summer's day, from north,
south, east, and west, from every point of the compass, came the
yell of the hurricane.
There was something shocking in this.
In a storm one is so beaten about by the wind that one has no
time to think: one is half stupefied. But in the dead centre of a
cyclone one is in perfect peace. The trouble is all around, but it is
not here. One has time to examine the thing like a tiger in a cage,
listen to its voice and shudder at its ferocity.
The girl, holding the baby to her breast, sat up gasping. The baby
had come to no harm; it had cried at first when the thunder broke,
but now it seemed impassive, almost dazed. Dick stepped from
under the tree and looked at the prodigy in the air.
The cyclone had gathered on its way sea-birds and birds from the
land; there were gulls, electric white and black man-of-war
birds, butterflies, and they all seemed imprisoned under a great
drifting dome of glass. As they went, travelling like things
without volition and in a dream, with a hum and a roar the southwest
quadrant of the cyclone burst on the island, and the whole
bitter business began over again.
It lasted for hours, then towards midnight the wind fell; and when
the sun rose next morning he came through a cloudless sky,
without a trace of apology for the destruction caused by his
children the winds. He showed trees uprooted and birds lying
dead, three or four canes remaining of what had once been a
house, the lagoon the colour of a pale sapphire, and a glass-green,
foam-capped sea racing in thunder against the reef.
At first they thought they were ruined; then Dick, searching,
found the old saw under a tree, and the butcher's knife near it, as
though the knife and saw had been trying to escape in company
and had failed.
Bit by bit they began to recover something of their scattered
property. The remains of the flannel had been taken by the cyclone
and wrapped round and round a slender cocoa-nut tree, till the
trunk looked like a gaily bandaged leg. The box of fish-hooks had
been jammed into the centre of a cooked breadfruit, both having
been picked up by the fingers of the wind and hurled against the
same tree; and the stay-sail of the Shenandoah was out on the
reef, with a piece of coral carefully placed on it as if to keep it
down. As for the lug-sail belonging to the dinghy, it was never
seen again.
There is humour sometimes in a cyclone, if you can only
appreciate it; no other form of air disturbance produces such
quaint effects. Beside the great main whirlpool of wind, there are
subsidiary whirlpools, each actuated by its own special imp.
Emmeline had felt Hannah nearly snatched from her arms twice by
these little ferocious gimlet winds; and that the whole business
of the great storm was set about with the object of snatching
Hannah from her, and blowing him out to sea, was a belief which
she held, perhaps, in the innermost recesses of her mind.
The dinghy would have been utterly destroyed, had it not heeled
over and sunk in shallow water at the first onset of the wind; as
it was, Dick was able to bail it out at the next low tide, when it
floated as bravely as ever, not having started a single seam.
But the destruction amidst the trees was pitiful. Looking at the
woods as a mass, one noticed gaps here and there, but what had
really happened could not be seen till one was amongst the trees.
Great, beautiful cocoa-nut palms, not dead, but just dying, lay
crushed and broken as if trampled upon by some enormous foot.
You would come across half a dozen lianas twisted into one great
cable. Where cocoa-nut palms were, you could not move a yard
without kicking against a fallen nut; you might have picked up
full-grown, half-grown, and wee baby nuts, not bigger than small
apples, for on the same tree you will find nuts of all sizes and
One never sees a perfectly straight-stemmed cocoa-palm; they
all have an inclination from the perpendicular more or less;
perhaps that is why a cyclone has more effect on them than on
other trees.
Artus, once so pretty a picture with their diamond-chequered
trunks, lay broken and ruined; and right through the belt of
mammee apple, right through the bad lands, lay a broad road, as if
an army, horse, foot, and artillery, had passed that way from
lagoon edge to lagoon edge. This was the path left by the great
fore-foot of the storm; but had you searched the woods on either
side, you would have found paths where the lesser winds had been
at work, where the baby whirlwinds had been at play.
From the bruised woods, like an incense offered to heaven, rose a
perfume of blossoms gathered and scattered, of rain-wet leaves,
of lianas twisted and broken and oozing their sap; the perfume of
newly-wrecked and ruined trees--the essence and soul of the
artu, the banyan and cocoa-palm cast upon the wind.
You would have found dead butterflies in the woods, dead birds
too; but in the great path of the storm you would have found dead
butterflies' wings, feathers, leaves frayed as if by fingers,
branches of the aoa, and sticks of the hibiscus broken into little
Powerful enough to rip a ship open, root up a tree, half ruin a city.
Delicate enough to tear a butterfly wing from wing--that is a
Emmeline, wandering about in the woods with Dick on the day
after the storm, looking at the ruin of great tree and little bird,
and recollecting the land birds she had caught a glimpse of
yesterday being carried along safely by the storm out to sea to be
drowned, felt a great weight lifting from her heart. Mischance had
come, and spared them and the baby. The blue had spoken, but had
not called them.
She felt that something--the something which we in civilisation
call Fate--was for the present gorged; and, without being
annihilated, her incessant hypochondriacal dread condensed itself
into a point, leaving her horizon sunlit and clear.
The cyclone had indeed treated them almost, one might say,
amiably. It had taken the house but that was a small matter, for
it had left them nearly all their small possessions. The tinder box
and flint and steel would have been a much more serious loss than
a dozen houses, for, without it, they would have had absolutely no
means of making a fire.
If anything, the cyclone had been almost too kind to them; had let
them pay off too little of that mysterious debt they owed to the
The next day Dick began to rebuild the house. He had fetched the
stay-sail from the reef and rigged up a temporary tent.
It was a great business cutting the canes and dragging them out
in the open. Emmeline helped; whilst Hannah, seated on the grass,
played with the bird that had vanished during the storm, but
reappeared the evening after.
The child and the bird had grown fast friends; they were friendly
enough even at first, but now the bird would sometimes let the
tiny hands clasp him right round his body--at least, as far as the
hands would go.
It is a rare experience for a man to hold a tame and unstruggling
and unfrightened bird in his hands; next to pressing a woman in
his arms, it is the pleasantest tactile sensation he will ever
experience, perhaps, in life. He will feel a desire to press it to
his heart, if he has such a thing.
Hannah would press Koko to his little brown stomach, as if in
artless admission of where his heart lay.
He was an extraordinarily bright and intelligent child. He did not
promise to be talkative, for, having achieved the word "Dick," he
rested content for a long while before advancing further into the
labyrinth of language; but though he did not use his tongue, he
spoke in a host of other ways. With his eyes, that were as bright
as Koko's, and full of all sorts of mischief; with his hands and
feet and the movements of his body. He had a way of shaking his
hands before him when highly delighted, a way of expressing
nearly all the shades of pleasure; and though he rarely expressed
anger, when he did so, he expressed it fully.
He was just now passing over the frontier into toyland. In
civilisation he would no doubt have been the possessor of an
india-rubber dog or a woolly lamb, but there were no toys here at
all. Emmeline's old doll had been left behind when they took flight
from the other side of the island, and Dick, a year or so ago, on
one of his expeditions, had found it lying half buried in the sand
of the beach.
He had brought it back now more as a curiosity than anything
else, and they had kept it on the shelf in the house. The cyclone
had impaled it on a tree-twig near by, if in derision; and Hannah,
when it was presented to him as a plaything, flung it away from
him as if in disgust. But he would play with flowers or bright
shells, or bits of coral, making vague patterns with them on the
All the toy lambs in the world would not have pleased him better
than those things, the toys of the Troglodyte children--the
children of the Stone Age. To clap two oyster shells together and
make a noise--what, after all, could a baby want better than
One afternoon, when the house was beginning to take some sort of
form, they ceased work and went off into the woods; Emmeline
carrying the baby and Dick taking turns with him. They were going
to the valley of the idol.
Since the coming of Hannah, and even before, the stone figure
standing in its awful and mysterious solitude had ceased to be an
object of dread to Emmeline, and had become a thing vaguely
benevolent. Love had come to her under its shade; and under its
shade the spirit of the child had entered into her from where, who
knows? But certainly through heaven.
Perhaps the thing which had been the god of some unknown people
had inspired her with the instinct of religion; if so, she was his
last worshipper on earth, for when they entered the valley they
found him lying upon his face. Great blocks of stone lay around
him: there had evidently been a landslip, a catastrophe preparing
for ages, and determined, perhaps, by the torrential rain of the
In Ponape, Huahine, in Easter Island, you may see great idols that
have been felled like this, temples slowly dissolving from sight,
and terraces, seemingly as solid as the hills, turning softly and
subtly into shapeless mounds of stone.
Next morning the light of day filtering through the trees
awakened Emmeline in the tent which they had improvised whilst
the house was building. Dawn came later here than on the other
side of the island which faced east later, and in a different
manner for there is the difference of worlds between dawn
coming over a wooded hill, and dawn coming over the sea.
Over at the other side, sitting on the sand with the break of the
reef which faced the east before you, scarcely would the east
change colour before the sea-line would be on fire, the sky lit up
into an illimitable void of blue, and the sunlight flooding into the
lagoon, the ripples of light seeming to chase the ripples of water.
On this side it was different. The sky would be dark and full of
stars, and the woods, great spaces of velvety shadow. Then
through the leaves of the artu would come a sigh, and the leaves
of the breadfruit would patter, and the sound of the reef become
faint. The land breeze had awakened, and in a while, as if it had
blown them away, looking up, you would find the stars gone, and
the sky a veil of palest blue. In this indirect approach of dawn
there was something ineffably mysterious. One could see, but the
things seen were indecisive and vague, just as they are in the
gloaming of an English summer's day.
Scarcely had Emmeline arisen when Dick woke also, and they went
out on to the sward, and then down to the water's edge. Dick went
in for a swim, and the girl, holding the baby, stood on the bank
watching him.
Always after a great storm the weather of the island would
become more bracing and exhilarating, and this morning the air
seemed filled with the spirit of spring. Emmeline felt it, and as
she watched the swimmer disporting in the water, she laughed,
and held the child up to watch him. She was fey. The breeze, filled
with all sorts of sweet perfumes from the woods, blew her black
hair about her shoulders, and the full light of morning coming
over the palm fronds of the woods beyond the sward touched her
and the child. Nature seemed caressing them.
Dick came ashore, and then ran about to dry himself in the wind.
Then he went to the dinghy and examined her; for he had
determined to leave the house-building for half a day, and row
round to the old place to see how the banana trees had fared
during the storm. His anxiety about them was not to be wondered
at. The island was his larder, and the bananas were a most
valuable article of food. He had all the feelings of a careful
housekeeper about them, and he could not rest till he had seen for
himself the extent of damage, if damage there was any.
He examined the boat, and then they all went back to breakfast.
Living their lives, they had to use forethought. They would put
away, for instance, all the shells of the cocoa-nuts they used for
fuel; and you never could imagine the blazing splendour there
lives in the shell of a cocoa-nut till you see it burning. Yesterday,
Dick, with his usual prudence, had placed a heap of sticks, all wet
with the rain of the storm, to dry in the sun: as a consequence,
they had plenty of fuel to make a fire with this morning.
When they had finished breakfast he got the knife to cut the
bananas with if there were any left to cut and, taking the javelin,
he went down to the boat, followed by Emmeline and the child.
Dick had stepped into the boat, and was on the point of unmooring
her, and pushing her off, when Emmeline stopped him.
"I will go with you."
"You!" said he in astonishment.
"Yes, I'm--not afraid any more."
It was a fact; since the coming of the child she had lost that
dread of the other side of the island or almost lost it.
Death is a great darkness, birth is a great light--they had
intermixed in her mind; the darkness was still there, but it was
no longer terrible to her, for it was infused with the light. The
result was a twilight sad, but beautiful, and unpeopled with
forms of fear.
Years ago she had seen a mysterious door close and shut a human
being out for ever from the world. The sight had filled her with
dread unimaginable, for she had no words for the thing, no
religion or philosophy to explain it away or gloss it over. Just
recently she had seen an equally mysterious door open and admit a
human being; and deep down in her mind, in the place where the
dreams were, the one great fact had explained and justified the
other. Life had vanished into the void, but life had come from
there. There was life in the void, and it was no longer terrible.
Perhaps all religions were born on a day when some woman,
seated upon a rock by the prehistoric sea, looked at her newborn
child and recalled to mind her man who had been slain, thus
closing the charm and imprisoning the idea of a future state.
Emmeline, with the child in her arms, stepped into the little boat
and took her seat in the stern, whilst Dick pushed off. Scarcely
had he put out the sculls than a new passenger arrived. It was
Koko. He would often accompany them to the reef, though,
strangely enough, he would never go there alone of his own
accord. He made a circle or two over them, and then lit on the
gunwale in the bow, and perched there, humped up, and with his
long dove-coloured tail feathers presented to the water.
The oarsman kept close in-shore, and as they rounded the little
cape all gay with wild cocoa-nut the bushes brushed the boat, and
the child, excited by their colour, held out his hands to them.
Emmeline stretched out her hand and broke off a branch; but it
was not a branch of the wild cocoa-nut she had plucked, it was a
branch of the never-wake-up berries. The berries that will cause
a man to sleep, should he eat of them--to sleep and dream, and
never wake up again.
"Throw them away!" cried Dick, who remembered.
"I will in a minute," she replied.
She was holding them up before the child, who was laughing and
trying to grasp them. Then she forgot them, and dropped them in
the bottom of the boat, for something had struck the keel with a
thud, and the water was boiling all round.
There was a savage fight going on below. In the breeding season
great battles would take place sometimes in the lagoon, for fish
have their jealousies just like men--love affairs, friendships.
The two great forms could be dimly perceived, one in pursuit of
the other, and they terrified Emmeline, who implored Dick to row
They slipped by the pleasant shores that Emmeline had never seen
before, having been sound asleep when they came past them those
years ago.
Just before putting off she had looked back at the beginnings of
the little house under the artu tree, and as she looked at the
strange glades and groves, the picture of it rose before her, and
seemed to call her back.
It was a tiny possession, but it was home; and so little used to
change was she that already a sort of home-sickness was upon
her; but it passed away almost as soon as it came, and she fell to
wondering at the things around her, and pointing them out to the
When they came to the place where Dick had hooked the albicore,
he hung on his oars and told her about it. It was the first time she
had heard of it; a fact which shows into what a state of savagery
he had been lapsing. He had mentioned about the canoes, for he had
to account for the javelin; but as for telling her of the incidents
of the chase, he no more thought of doing so than a red Indian
would think of detailing to his squaw the incidents of a bear hunt.
Contempt for women is the first law of savagery, and perhaps the
last law of some old and profound philosophy.
She listened, and when it came to the incident of the shark, she
"I wish I had a hook big enough to catch him with," said he,
staring into the water as if in search of his enemy.
"Don't think of him, Dick," said Emmeline, holding the child more
tightly to her heart. "Row on."
He resumed the sculls, but you could have seen from his face that
he was recounting to himself the incident.
When they had rounded the last promontory, and the strand and the
break in the reef opened before them, Emmeline caught her breath.
The place had changed in some subtle manner; everything was
there as before, yet everything seemed different--the lagoon
seemed narrower, the reef nearer, the cocoa-palms not nearly so
tall. She was contrasting the real things with the recollection of
them when seen by a child. The black speck had vanished from the
reef; the storm had swept it utterly away.
Dick beached the boat on the shelving sand, and left Emmeline
seated in the stern of it, whilst he went in search of the bananas;
she would have accompanied him, but the child had fallen asleep.
Hannah asleep was even a pleasanter picture than when awake. He
looked like a little brown Cupid without wings, bow or arrow. He
had all the grace of a curled-up feather. Sleep was always in
pursuit of him, and would catch him up at the most unexpected
moments--when he was at play, or indeed at any time. Emmeline
would sometimes find him with a coloured shell or bit of coral
that he had been playing with in his hand fast asleep, a happy
expression on his face, as if his mind were pursuing its earthly
avocations on some fortunate beach in dreamland.
Dick had plucked a huge breadfruit leaf and given it to her as a
shelter from the sun, and she sat holding it over her, and gazing
straight before her, over the white, sunlit sands.
The flight of the mind in reverie is not in a direct line. To her,
dreaming as she sat, came all sorts of coloured pictures, recalled
by the scene before her: the green water under the stern of a ship,
and the word Shenandoah vaguely reflected on it; their landing,
and the little tea-set spread out on the white sand--she could
still see the pansies painted on the plates, and she counted in
memory the lead spoons; the great stars that burned over the reef
at nights; the Cluricaunes and fairies; the cask by the well where
the convolvulus blossomed, and the wind-blown trees seen from
the summit of the hill--all these pictures drifted before her,
dissolving and replacing each other as they went.
There was sadness in the contemplation of them, but pleasure too.
She felt at peace with the world. All trouble seemed far behind
her. It was as if the great storm that had left them unharmed had
been an ambassador from the powers above to assure her of their
forbearance, protection, and love.
All at once she noticed that between the boat's bow and the sand
there lay a broad, blue, sparkling line. The dinghy was afloat.
The woods here had been less affected by the cyclone than those
upon the other side of the island, but there had been destruction
enough. To reach the place he wanted, Dick had to climb over
felled trees and fight his way through a tangle of vines that had
once hung overhead.
The banana trees had not suffered at all; as if by some special
dispensation of Providence even the great bunches of fruit had
been scarcely injured, and he proceeded to climb and cut them. He
cut two bunches, and with one across his shoulder came back
down through the trees.
He had got half across the sands, his head bent under the load,
when a distant call came to him, and, raising his head, he saw the
boat adrift in the middle of the lagoon, and the figure of the girl
in the bow of it waving to him with her arm. He saw a scull
floating on the water half-way between the boat and the shore,
which she had no doubt lost in an attempt to paddle the boat back.
He remembered that the tide was going out.
He flung his load aside, and ran down the beach; in a moment he
was in the water. Emmeline, standing up in the boat, watched him.
When she found herself adrift, she had made an effort to row
back, and in her hurry shipping the sculls she had lost one. With a
single scull she was quite helpless, as she had not the art of
sculling a boat from the stern. At first she was not frightened,
because she knew that Dick would soon return to her assistance;
but as the distance between boat and shore increased, a cold hand
seemed laid upon her heart. Looking at the shore it seemed very
far away, and the view towards the reef was terrific, for the
opening had increased in apparent size, and the great sea beyond
seemed drawing her to it.
She saw Dick coming out of the wood with the load on his
shoulder, and she called to him. At first he did not seem to hear,
then she saw him look up, cast the bananas away, and come
running down the sand to the water's edge. She watched him
swimming, she saw him seize the scull, and her heart gave a
great leap of joy.
Towing the scull and swimming with one arm,he rapidly
approached the boat. He was quite close, only ten feet away, when
Emmeline saw behind him, shearing through the clear rippling
water, and advancing with speed, a dark triangle that seemed
made of canvas stretched upon a sword-point.
Forty years ago he had floated adrift on the sea in the form and
likeness of a small shabby pine-cone, a prey to anything that
might find him. He had escaped the jaws of the dog-fish, and the
jaws of the dog-fish are a very wide door; he had escaped the
albicore and squid: his life had been one long series of miraculous
escapes from death. Out of a billion like him born in the same
year, he and a few others only had survived.
For thirty years he had kept the lagoon to himself, as a ferocious
tiger keeps a jungle. He had known the palm tree on the reef when
it was a seedling, and he had known the reef even before the palm
tree was there. The things he had devoured, flung one upon
another, would have made a mountain; yet he was as clear of
enmity as a sword, as cruel and as soulless. He was the spirit of
the lagoon.
Emmeline screamed, and pointed to the thing behind the
swimmer. He turned, saw it, dropped the oar and made for the
boat. She had seized the remaining scull and stood with it poised,
then she hurled it blade foremost at the form in the water, now
fully visible, and close on its prey.
She could not throw a stone straight, yet the scull went like an
arrow to the mark, balking the pursuer and saving the pursued. In
a moment more his leg was over the gunwale, and he was saved.
But the scull was lost.
There was nothing in the boat that could possibly be used as a
paddle; the scull was only five or six yards away, but to attempt
to swim to it was certain death, yet they were being swept out to
sea. He might have made the attempt, only that on the starboard
quarter the form of the shark, gently swimming at the same pace
as they were drifting, could be made out only half veiled by the
The bird perched on the gunwale seemed to divine their trouble,
for he rose in the air, made a circle, and resumed his perch with
all his feathers ruffled.
Dick stood in despair, helpless, his hands clasping his head. The
shore was drawing away before him, the surf loudening behind
him, yet he could do nothing. The island was being taken away
from them by the great hand of the sea.
Then, suddenly, the little boat entered the race formed by the
confluence of the tides, from the right and left arms of the
lagoon; the sound of the surf suddenly increased as though a door
had been flung open. The breakers were falling and the sea-gulls
crying on either side of them, and for a moment the ocean seemed
to hesitate as to whether they were to be taken away into her
wastes, or dashed on the coral strand. Only for a moment this
seeming hesitation lasted; then the power of the tide prevailed
over the power of the swell, and the little boat taken by the
current drifted gently out to sea.
Dick flung himself down beside Emmeline, who was seated in the
bottom of the boat holding the child to her breast. The bird,
seeing the land retreat, and wise in its instinct. rose into the air.
It circled thrice round the drifting boat, and then, like a beautiful
but faithless spirit, passed away to the shore.
The island had sunk slowly from sight; at sundown it was just a
trace, a stain on the south-western horizon. It was before the
new moon, and the little boat lay drifting. It drifted from the
light of sunset into a world of vague violet twilight, and now it
lay drifting under the stars.
The girl, clasping the baby to her breast, leaned against her
companion's shoulder; neither of them spoke. All the wonders in
their short existence had culminated in this final wonder, this
passing away together from the world of Time. This strange
voyage they had embarked on--to where?
Now that the first terror was over they felt neither sorrow nor
fear. They were together. Come what might, nothing could divide
them; even should they sleep and never wake up, they would sleep
together. Had one been left and the other taken!
As though the thought had occurred to them simultaneously, they
turned one to the other, and their lips met, their souls met,
mingling in one dream; whilst above in the windless heaven space
answered space with flashes of siderial light, and Canopus shone
and burned like the pointed sword of Azrael.
Clasped in Emmeline's hand was the last and most mysterious
gift of the mysterious world they had known--the branch of
crimson berries.
They knew him upon the Pacific slope as "Mad Lestrange." He was
not mad, but he was a man with a fixed idea. He was pursued by a
vision: the vision of two children and an old sailor adrift in a
little boat upon a wide blue sea.
When the Arago, bound for Papetee, picked up the boats of the
Northumberland, only the people in the long-boat were alive. Le
Farge, the captain, was mad, and he never recovered his reason.
Lestrange was utterly shattered; the awful experience in the
boats and the loss of the children had left him a seemingly
helpless wreck. The scowbankers, like all their class, had fared
better, and in a few days were about the ship and sitting in the
sun. Four days after the rescue the Arago spoke the Newcastle,
bound for San Francisco, and transshipped the shipwrecked men.
Had a physician seen Lestrange on board the Northumberland as
she lay in that long, long calm before the fire, he would have
declared that nothing but a miracle could prolong his life. The
miracle came about.
In the general hospital of San Francisco, as the clouds cleared
from his mind, they unveiled the picture of the children and the
little boat. The picture had been there daily, seen but not truly
comprehended; the horrors gone through in the open boat, the
sheer physical exhaustion, had merged all the accidents of the
great disaster into one mournful half-comprehended fact. When
his brain cleared all the other incidents fell out of focus, and
memory, with her eyes set upon the children, began to paint a
picture that he was ever more to see.
Memory cannot produce a picture that Imagination has not
retouched; and her pictures, even the ones least touched by
Imagination, are no mere photographs, but the world of an artist.
All that is inessential she casts away, all that is essential she
retains; she idealises, and that is why her picture of a lost
mistress has had power to keep a man a celibate to the end of his
days, and why she can break a human heart with the picture of a
dead child. She is a painter, but she is also a poet.
The picture before the mind of Lestrange was filled with this
almost diabolical poetry, for in it the little boat and her helpless
crew were represented adrift on a blue and sunlit sea. A sea most
beautiful to look at, yet most terrible, bearing as it did the
recollections of thirst.
He had been dying, when, raising himself on his elbow, so to say,
he looked at this picture. It recalled him to life. His willpower
asserted itself, and he refused to die.
The will of a man has, if it is strong enough, the power to reject
death. He was not in the least conscious of the exercise of this
power; he only knew that a great and absorbing interest had
suddenly arisen in him, and that a great aim stood before him--
the recovery of the children.
The disease that was killing him ceased its ravages, or rather
was slain in its turn by the increased vitality against which it
had to strive. He left the hospital and took up his quarters at the
Palace Hotel, and then, like the General of an army, he began to
formulate his plan of campaign against Fate.
When the crew of the Northumberland had stampeded, hurling
their officers aside, lowering the boats with a rush, and casting
themselves into the sea, everything had been lost in the way of
ship's papers; the charts, the two logs--everything, in fact, that
could indicate the latitude and longitude of the disaster. The first
and second officers and a midshipman had shared the fate of the
quarter-boat; of the fore-mast hands saved, not one, of course,
could give the slightest hint as to the locality of the spot.
A time reckoning from the Horn told little, for there was no
record of the log. All that could be said was that the disaster had
occurred somewhere south of the line.
In Le Farge's brain lay for a certainty the position, and Lestrange
went to see the captain in the "Maison de Sante," where he was
being looked after, and found him quite recovered from the
furious mania that he had been suffering from. Quite recovered,
and playing with a ball of coloured worsted.
There remained the log of the Arago; in it would be found the
latitude and longitude of the boats she had picked up.
The Arago, due at Papetee, became overdue. Lestrange watched
the overdue lists from day to day, from week to week, from month
to month, uselessly, for the Arago never was heard of again. One
could not affirm even that she was wrecked; she was simply one
of the ships that never come back from the sea.
To lose a child he loves is undoubtedly the greatest catastrophe
that can happen to a man. I do not refer to its death.
A child wanders into the street, or is left by its nurse for a
moment, and vanishes. At first the thing is not realised. There is
a pang and hurry at the heart which half vanishes, whilst the
understanding explains that in a civilised city, if a child gets
lost, it will be found and brought back by the neighbours or the
But the police know nothing of the matter, or the neighbours, and
the hours pass. Any minute may bring back the wanderer; but the
minutes pass, and the day wears into evening, and the evening to
night, and the night to dawn, and the common sounds of a new day
You cannot remain at home for restlessness; you go out, only to
return hurriedly for news. You are eternally listening, and what
you hear shocks you; the common sounds of life, the roll of the
carts and cabs in the street, the footsteps of the passers-by, are
full of an indescribable mournfulness; music increases your
misery into madness, and the joy of others is monstrous as
laughter heard in hell.
If someone were to bring you the dead body of the child, you might
weep, but you would bless him, for it is the uncertainty that kills.
You go mad, or go on living. Years pass by, and you are an old man.
You say to yourself: "He would have been twenty years of age today."
There is not in the old ferocious penal code of our forefathers a
punishment adequate to the case of the man or woman who steals
a child.
Lestrange was a wealthy man, and one hope remained to him, that
the children might have been rescued by some passing ship. It was
not the case of children lost in a city, but in the broad Pacific,
where ships travel from all ports to all ports, and to advertise
his loss adequately it was necessary to placard the world. Ten
thousand dollars was the reward offered for news of the lost
ones, twenty thousand for the recovery; and the advertisement
appeared in every newspaper likely to reach the eyes of a sailor,
from the Liverpool Post to the Dead Bird.
The years passed without anything definite coming in answer to
all these advertisements. Once news came of two children saved
from the sea in the neighbourhood of the Gilberts, and it was not
false news, but they were not the children he was seeking for.
This incident at once depressed and stimulated him, for it seemed
to say, "If these children have been saved, why not yours?"
The strange thing was, that in his heart he felt a certainty that
they were alive. His intellect suggested their death in twenty
different forms; but a whisper, somewhere out of that great blue
ocean, told him at intervals that what he sought was there,
living, and waiting for him.
He was somewhat of the same temperament as Emmeline--a
dreamer, with a mind tuned to receive and record the fine rays
that fill this world flowing from intellect to intellect, and even
from what we call inanimate things. A coarser nature would,
though feeling, perhaps, as acutely the grief, have given up in
despair the search. But he kept on; and at the end of the fifth
year, so far from desisting, he chartered a schooner and passed
eighteen months in a fruitless search, calling at little-known
islands, and once, unknowing, at an island only three hundred
miles away from the tiny island of this story.
If you wish to feel the hopelessness of this unguided search, do
not look at a map of the Pacific, but go there. Hundreds and
hundreds of thousands of square leagues of sea, thousands of
islands, reefs, atolls.
Up to a few years ago there were many small islands utterly
unknown; even still there are some, though the charts of the
Pacific are the greatest triumphs of hydrography; and though the
island of the story was actually on the Admiralty charts, of what
use was that fact to Lestrange?
He would have continued searching, but he dared not, for the
desolation of the sea had touched him.
In that eighteen months the Pacific explained itself to him in
part, explained its vastness, its secrecy and inviolability. The
schooner lifted veil upon veil of distance, and veil upon veil lay
beyond. He could only move in a right line; to search the
wilderness of water with any hope, one would have to be endowed
with the gift of moving in all directions at once.
He would often lean over the bulwark rail and watch the swell
slip by, as if questioning the water. Then the sunsets began to
weigh upon his heart, and the stars to speak to him in a new
language, and he knew that it was time to return, if he would
return with a whole mind.
When he got back to San Francisco he called upon his agent,
Wannamaker of Kearney Street, but there was still no news.
He had a suite of rooms at the Palace Hotel, and he lived the life
of any other rich man who is not addicted to pleasure. He knew
some of the best people in the city, and conducted himself so
sanely in all respects that a casual stranger would never have
guessed his reputation for madness; but when you knew him
better, you would find sometimes in the middle of a conversation
that his mind was away from the subject; and were you to follow
him in the street, you would hear him in conversation with
himself. Once at a dinner-party he rose and left the room, and did
not return. Trifles, but sufficient to establish a reputation of a
One morning--to be precise, it was the second day of May, exactly
eight years and five months after the wreck of the
Northumberland--Lestrange was in his sitting-room reading,
when the bell of the telephone, which stood in the corner of the
room, rang. He went to the instrument.
"Are you there?" came a high American voice. "Lestrange--right-
-come down and see me--Wannamaker--I have news for you."
Lestrange held the receiver for a moment, then he put it back in
the rest. He went to a chair and sat down, holding his head
between his hands, then he rose and went to the telephone again;
but he dared not use it, he dare not shatter the newborn hope.
"News!" What a world lies in that word.
In Kearney Street he stood before the door of Wannamaker's
office collecting himself and watching the crowd drifting by,
then he entered and went up the stairs. He pushed open a swingdoor
and entered a great room. The clink and rattle of a dozen
typewriters filled the place, and all the hurry of business; clerks
passed and came with sheaves of correspondence in their hands;
and Wannamaker himself, rising from bending over a message
which he was correcting on one of the typewriters' tables, saw
the newcomer and led him to the private office.
"What is it?" said Lestrange.
"Only this," said the other, taking up a slip of paper with a name
and address on it. "Simon J. Fountain, of 45 Rathray Street, West-
-that's down near the wharves--says he has seen your ad. in an
old number of a paper, and he thinks he can tell you something. He
did not specify the nature of the intelligence, but it might be
worth finding out.
"I will go there," said Lestrange.
"Do you know Rathray Street?"
Wannamaker went out and called a boy and gave him some
directions; then Lestrange and the boy started.
Lestrange left the office without saying "Thank you," or taking
leave in any way of the advertising agent who did not feel in the
least affronted, for he knew his customer.
Rathray Street is, or was before the earthquake, a street of small
clean houses. It had a seafaring look that was accentuated by the
marine perfumes from the wharves close by and the sound of
steam winches loading or discharging cargo--a sound that ceased
not a night or day as the work went on beneath the sun or the
sizzling arc lamps.
No. 45 was almost exactly like its fellows,. neither better nor
worse; and the door was opened by a neat, prim woman, small, and
of middle age. Commonplace she was, no doubt, but not
commonplace to Lestrange.
"Is Mr Fountain in?" he asked. "I have come about the
"Oh, have you, sir?" she replied, making way for him to enter, and
showing him into a little sitting-room on the left of the passage.
"The Captain is in bed; he is a great invalid, but he was expecting,
perhaps, someone would call, and he will be able to see you in a
minute, if you don't mind waiting."
"Thanks," said Lestrange; "I can wait."
He had waited eight years, what mattered a few minutes now?
But at no time in the eight years had he suffered such suspense,
for his heart knew that now, just now in this commonplace little
house, from the lips of, perhaps, the husband of that commonplace
woman, he was going to learn either what he feared to hear, or
what he hoped.
It was a depressing little room; it was so clean, and looked as
though it were never used. A ship imprisoned in a glass bottle
stood upon the mantelpiece, and there were shells from far-away
places, pictures of ships in sand--all the things one finds as a
rule adorning an old sailor's home.
Lestrange, as he sat waiting, could hear movements from the next
room--probably the invalid's, which they were preparing for his
reception. The distant sounds of the derricks and winches came
muted through the tightly shut window that looked as though it
never had been opened. A square of sunlight lit the upper part of
the cheap lace curtain on the right of the window, and repeated
its pattern vaguely on the lower part of the wall opposite. Then a
bluebottle fly awoke suddenly into life and began to buzz and
drum against the window pane, and Lestrange wished that they
would come.
A man of his temperament must necessarily, even under the
happiest circumstances, suffer in going through the world; the
fine fibre always suffers when brought into contact with the
coarse. These people were as kindly disposed as anyone else. The
advertisement and the face and manners of the visitor might have
told them that it was not the time for delay, yet they kept him
waiting whilst they arranged bed-quilts and put medicine bottles
straight as if he could see!
At last the door opened, and the woman said:
"Will you step this way, sir?"
She showed him into a bedroom opening off the passage. The room
was neat and clean, and had that indescribable appearance which
marks the bedroom of the invalid.
In the bed, making a mountain under the counterpane with an
enormously distended stomach, lay a man, black-bearded, and
with his large, capable, useless hands spread out on the coverlet-
-hands ready and willing, but debarred from work. Without moving
his body, he turned his head slowly and looked at the newcomer.
This slow movement was not from weakness or disease, it was
the slow, emotionless nature of the man speaking.
"This is the gentleman, Silas," said the woman, speaking over
Lestrange's shoulder. Then she withdrew and closed the door.
"Take a chair, sir," said the sea captain, flapping one of his hands
on the counterpane as if in wearied protest against his own
helplessness. "I haven't the pleasure of your name, but the missus
tells me you're come about the advertisement I lit on yestereven."
He took a paper, folded small, that lay beside him, and held it out
to his visitor. It was a Sidney Bulletin three years old.
"Yes," said Lestrange, looking at the paper; "that is my
"Well, it's strange--very strange," said Captain Fountain, "that I
should have lit on it only yesterday. I've had it all three years in
my chest, the way old papers get lying at the bottom with odds
and ends. Mightn't a' seen it now, only the missus cleared the
raffle out of the chest, and, `Give me that paper,' I says, seeing it
in her hand; and I fell to reading it, for a man'll read anything bar
tracts lying in bed eight months, as I've been with the dropsy. I've
been whaler man and boy forty year, and my last ship was the
Sea-Horse. Over seven years ago one of my men picked up
something on a beach of one of them islands east of the
Marquesas-_we'd put in to water "
"Yes, yes," said Lestrange. "What was it he found?"
"Missus!" roared the captain in a voice that shook the walls of the
The door opened, and the woman appeared.
"Fetch me my keys out of my trousers pocket."
The trousers were hanging up on the back of the door, as if only
waiting to be put on. The woman fetched the keys, and he fumbled
over them and found one. He handed it to her, and pointed to the
drawer of a bureau opposite the bed.
She knew evidently what was wanted, for she opened the drawer
and produced a box, which she handed to him. It was a small
cardboard box tied round with a bit of string. He undid the string,
and disclosed a child's tea service: a teapot, cream jug, six little
plates all painted with a pansy.
It was the box which Emmeline had always been losing--lost
Lestrange buried his face in his hands. He knew the things.
Emmeline had shown them to him in a burst of confidence. Out of
all that vast ocean he had searched unavailingly: they had come to
him like a message, and the awe and mystery of it bowed him
down and crushed him.
The captain had placed the things on the newspaper spread out by
his side, and he was unrolling the little spoons from their tissuepaper
covering. He counted them as if entering up the tale of some
trust, and placed them on the newspaper.
"When did you find them?" asked Lestrange, speaking with his
face still covered.
"A matter of over seven years ago," replied the captain, "we'd put
in to water at a place south of the line--Palm Tree Island we
whalemen call it, because of the tree at the break of the lagoon.
One of my men brought it aboard, found it in a shanty built of
sugarcanes which the men bust up for devilment."
"Good God!" said Lestrange. "Was there no one there--nothing but
this box?"
"Not a sight or sound, so the men said; just the shanty, abandoned
seemingly. I had no time to land and hunt for castaways, I was
after whales."
"How big is the island?"
"Oh, a fairish middle-sized island--no natives. I've heard tell it's
tabu; why, the Lord only knows--some crank of the Kanakas I
s'pose. Anyhow, there's the findings--you recognise them?"
"I do."
"Seems strange," said the captain, "that I should pick em up;
seems strange your advertisement out, and the answer to it lying
amongst my gear, but that's the way things go."
"Strange!" said the other. "It's more than strange."
"Of course," continued the captain, "they might have been on the
island hid away som'ere, there's no saying; only appearances are
against it. Of course they might be there now unbeknownst to you
or me."
"They are there now," answered Lestrange, who was sitting up and
looking at the playthings as though he read in them some hidden
message. "They are there now. Have you the position of the
"I have. Missus, hand me my private log."
She took a bulky, greasy, black note-book from the bureau, and
handed it to him. He opened it, thumbed the pages, and then read
out the latitude and longitude.
"I entered it on the day of finding--here's the entry. `Adams
brought aboard child's toy box out of deserted shanty, which men
pulled down; traded it to me for a caulker of rum.' The cruise
lasted three years and eight months after that; we'd only been out
three when it happened. I forgot all about it: three years
scrubbing round the world after whales doesn't brighten a man's
memory. Right round we went, and paid off at Nantucket. Then,
after a fortni't on shore and a month repairin', the old Sea-Horse
was off again, I with her. It was at Honolulu this dropsy took me,
and back I come here, home. That's the yarn. There's not much to
it, but, seein' your advertisement, I thought I might answer it."
Lestrange took Fountain's hand and shook it.
"You see the reward I offered?" he said. "I have not my cheque
book with me, but you shall have the cheque in an hour from now."
"No, SIR," replied the captain; "if anything comes of it, I don't say
I'm not open to some small acknowledgment, but ten thousand
dollars for a five-cent box--that's not my way of doing business."
"I can't make you take the money now--I can't even thank you
properly now," said Lestrange--"I am in a fever; but when all is
settled, you and I will settle this business. My God!"
He buried his face in his hands again.
"I'm not wishing to be inquisitive," said Captain Fountain, slowly
putting the things back in the box and tucking the paper shavings
round them, "but may I ask how you propose to move in this
"I will hire a ship at once and search."
"Ay," said the captain, wrapping up the little spoons in a
meditative manner; "perhaps that will be best."
He felt certain in his own mind that the search would be
fruitless, but he did not say so. If he had been absolutely certain
in his mind without being able to produce the proof, he would not
have counselled Lestrange to any other course, knowing that the
man's mind would never be settled until proof positive was
"The question is," said Lestrange, "what is my quickest way to
get there?"
"There I may be able to help you," said Fountain tying the string
round the box "A schooner with good heels to her is what you
want; and, if I'm not mistaken, there's one discharging cargo at
this present minit at O'Sullivan's wharf. Missus!"
The woman answered the call. Lestrange felt like a person in a
dream, and these people who were interesting themselves in his
affairs seemed to him beneficent beyond the nature of human
"Is Captain Stannistreet home, think you?"
"I don't know," replied the woman; "but I can go see."
She went.
"He lives only a few doors down," said Fountain, "and he's the man
for you. Best schooner captain ever sailed out of 'Frisco. The
Raratonga is the name of the boat I have in my mind--best boat
that ever wore copper. Stannistreet is captain of her, owners are
M'Vitie. She's been missionary, and she's been pigs; copra was her
last cargo, and she's nearly discharged it. Oh, M'Vitie would hire
her out to Satan at a price; you needn't be afraid of their boggling
at it if you can raise the dollars. She's had a new suit of sails
only the beginning of the year. Oh, she'll fix you up to a T, and you
take the word of S. Fountain for that. I'll engineer the thing from
this bed if you'll let me put my oar in your trouble; I'll victual
her, and find a crew three quarter price of any of those d----d
skulking agents. Oh, I'll take a commission right enough, but I'm
half paid with doing the thing "
He ceased, for footsteps sounded in the passage outside, and
Captain Stannistreet was shown in. He was a young man of not
more than thirty, alert, quick of eye, and pleasant of face.
Fountain introduced him to Lestrange, who had taken a fancy to
him at first sight.
When he heard about the business in hand, he seemed interested at
once; the affair seemed to appeal to him more than if it had been
a purely commercial matter, much as copra and pigs.
"If you'll come with me, sir, down to the wharf, I'll show you the
boat now," he said, when they had discussed the matter and
threshed it out thoroughly.
He rose, bid good-day to his friend Fountain, and Lestrange
followed him, carrying the brown paper box in his hand.
O'Sullivan's Wharf was not far away. A tall Cape Horner that
looked almost a twin sister of the ill-fated Northumberland
was discharging iron, and astern of her, graceful as a dream, with
snow-white decks, lay the Raratonga discharging copra.
"That's the boat," said Stannistreet; "cargo nearly all out. How
does she strike your fancy?"
"I'll take her," said Lestrange, "cost what it will."
It was on the 10th of May, so quickly did things move under the
supervision of the bedridden captain, that the Raratonga, with
Lestrange on board, cleared the Golden Gates, and made south,
heeling to a ten-knot breeze.
There is no mode of travel to be compared to your sailing-ship. In
a great ship, if you have ever made a voyage in one, the vast
spaces of canvas, the sky-high spars, the finesse with which the
wind is met and taken advantage of, will form a memory never to
be blotted out.
A schooner is the queen of all rigs; she has a bounding buoyancy
denied to the square-rigged craft, to which she stands in the same
relationship as a young girl to a dowager; and the Raratonga
was not only a schooner, but the queen, acknowledged of all the
schooners in the Pacific.
For the first few days they made good way south; then the wind
became baffling and headed them off.
Added to Lestrange's feverish excitement there was an anxiety, a
deep and soul-fretting anxiety, as if some half-heard voice were
telling him that the children he sought were threatened by some
These baffling winds blew upon the smouldering anxiety in his
breast, as wind blows upon embers, causing them to glow. They
lasted some days, and then, as if Fate had relented, up sprang on
the starboard quarter a spanking breeze, making the rigging sing
to a merry tune, and blowing the spindrift from the forefoot, as
the Raratonga, heeling to its pressure, went humming through the
sea, leaving a wake spreading behind her like a fan.
It took them along five hundred miles, silently and with the speed
of a dream. Then it ceased.
The ocean and the air stood still. The sky above stood solid like a
great pale blue dome; just where it met the water line of the far
horizon a delicate tracery of cloud draped the entire round of the
I have said that the ocean stood still as well as the air: to the eye
it was so, for the swell under-running the glitter on its surface
was so even, so equable, and so rhythmical, that the surface
seemed not in motion. Occasionally a dimple broke the surface,
and strips of dark sea-weed floated by, showing up the green; dim
things rose to the surface and, guessing the presence of man, sank
slowly and dissolved from sight.
Two days, never to be recovered, passed, and still the calm
continued. On the morning of the third day it breezed up from the
nor'-nor'west, and they continued their course, a cloud of.canvas,
every sail drawing, and the music of the ripple under the forefoot.
Captain Stannistreet was a genius in his profession; he could get
more speed out of a schooner than any other man afloat, and carry
more canvas without losing a stick. He was also, fortunately for
Lestrange, a man of refinement and education, and what was
better still, understanding.
They were pacing the deck one afternoon, when Lestrange, who
was walking with his hands behind him, and his eyes counting the
brown dowels in the cream-white planking, broke silence.
"You don't believe in visions and dreams?"
"How do you know that?" replied the other.
"Oh, I only put it as a question; most people say they don't."
"Yes, but most people do."
"I do," said Lestrange.
He was silent for a moment.
"You know my trouble so well that I won't bother you going over
it, but there has come over me of late a feeling--it is like a
waking dream."
"I can't quite explain, for it is as if I saw something which my
intelligence could not comprehend, or make an image of."
"I think I know what you mean."
"I don't think you do. This is something quite strange. I am fifty,
and in fifty years a man has experienced, as a rule, all the
ordinary and most of the extraordinary sensations that a human
being can be subjected to. Well, I have never felt this sensation
before; it comes on only at times. I see, as you might imagine, a
young baby sees, and things are before me that I do not
comprehend. It is not through my bodily eyes that this sensation
comes, but through some window of the mind, from before which
a curtain has been drawn."
"That's strange," said Stannistreet, who did not like the
conversation over-much, being simply a schooner captain and a
plain man, though intelligent enough and sympathetic.
"This something tells me," went on Lestrange, "that there is
danger threatening the--" He ceased, paused a minute, and then,
to Stannistreet's relief, went on. "If I talk like that you will think
I am not right in my head: let us pass the subject by, let us forget
dreams and omens and come to realities. You know how I lost the
children; you know how I hope to find them at the place where
Captain Fountain found their traces? He says the island was
uninhabited, but he was not sure."
"No," replied Stannistreet, "he only spoke of the beach."
"Yes. Well, suppose there were natives at the other side of the
island who had taken these children."
"If so, they would grow up with the natives."
"And become savages?"
"Yes; but the Polynesians can't be really called savages; they are
a very decent lot I've knocked about amongst them a good while,
and a kanaka is as white as a white man--which is not saying
much, but it's something. Most of the islands are civilised now. Of
course there are a few that aren't, but still, suppose even that
`savages,' as you call them, had come and taken the children off--"
Lestrange's breath caught, for this was the very fear that was in
his heart, though he had never spoken it.
"Well, they would be well treated."
"And brought up as savages?"
"I suppose so."
Lestrange sighed.
"Look here," said the captain; "it's all very well talking, but upon
my word I think that we civilised folk put on a lot of airs, and
waste a lot of pity on savages."
"How so?"
"What does a man want to be but happy?"
"Well, who is happier than a naked savage in a warm climate? Oh,
he's happy enough, and he's not always holding a corroboree. He's
a good deal of a gentleman; he has perfect health; he lives the life
a man was born to live--face to face with Nature. He doesn't see
the sun through an office window or the moon through the smoke
of factory chimneys; happy and civilised too but, bless you, where
is he? The whites have driven him out; in one or two small
islands you may find him still--a crumb or so of him."
"Suppose," said Lestrange, "suppose those children had been
brought up face to face with Nature--"
"Living that free life--"
"Waking up under the stars"--Lestrange was speaking with his
eyes fixed, as if upon something very far away--"going to sleep
as the sun sets, feeling the air fresh, like this which blows upon
us, all around them. Suppose they were like that, would it not be a
cruelty to bring them to what we call civilisation?"
"I think it would," said Stannistreet.
Lestrange said nothing, but continued pacing the deck, his head
bowed and his hands behind his back.
One evening at sunset, Stannistreet said:
"We're two hundred and forty miles from the island, reckoning
from to-day's reckoning at noon. We're going all ten knots even
with this breeze; we ought to fetch the place this time tomorrow.
Before that if it freshens."
"I am greatly disturbed," said Lestrange.
He went below, and the schooner captain shook his head, and,
locking his arm round a ratlin, gave his body to the gentle roll of
the craft as she stole along, skirting the sunset, splendid, and to
the nautical eye full of fine weather.
The breeze was not quite so fresh next morning, but it had been
blowing fairly all the night, and the Raratonga had made good
way. About eleven it began to fail. It became the lightest sailing
breeze, just sufficient to keep the sails drawing, and the wake
rippling and swirling behind. Suddenly Stannistreet, who had been
standing talking to Lestrange, climbed a few feet up the mizzen
ratlins, and shaded his eyes.
"What is it?" asked Lestrange.
"A boat," he replied. "Hand me that glass you will find in the sling
He levelled the glass, and looked for a long time without speaking.
"It's a boat adrift--a small boat, nothing in her. Stay! I see
something white, can't make it out. Hi there!"--to the fellow at
the wheel. "Keep her a point more to starboard." He got on to the
deck. "We're going dead on for her."
"Is there any one in her?" asked Lestrange.
"Can't quite make out, but I'll lower the whale-boat and fetch her
He gave orders for the whale-boat to be slung out and manned.
As they approached nearer, it was evident that the drifting boat,
which looked like a ship's dinghy, contained something, but what,
could not be made out.
When he had approached near enough, Stannistreet put the helm
down and brought the schooner to, with her sails all shivering. He
took his place in the bow of the whale-boat and Lestrange in the
stern. The boat was lowered, the falls cast off, and the oars bent
to the water.
The little dinghy made a mournful picture as she floated, looking
scarcely bigger than a walnut shell. In thirty strokes the whaleboat's
nose was touching her quarter. Stannistreet grasped her
In the bottom of the dinghy lay a girl, naked all but for a strip of
coloured striped material. One of her arms was clasped round the
neck of a form that was half hidden by her body, the other clasped
partly to herself, partly to her companion, the body of a baby.
They were natives, evidently, wrecked or lost by some mischance
from some inter-island schooner. Their breasts rose and fell
gently, and clasped in the girl's hand was a branch of some tree,
and on the branch a single withered berry.
"Are they dead?" asked Lestrange, who divined that there were
people in the boat, and who was standing up in the stern of the
whale-boat trying to see.
"No," said Stannistreet; "they are asleep."

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