The Blue lagoon: A Romance
H. de Vere Stacpoole
Part 2 out of 5
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
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.
SHADOWS IN THE MOONLIGHT
"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
"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
"Because she's always delutherin' people an' leadin' thim asthray.
Girls or men, she moidhers thim all once she gets the comeither
on them; same as she did Buck M'Cann."
"Buck M'Cann? Faith, he was the village ijit where I used to live
in the ould days."
"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
"Not a minit," said the other, with all the decision of a nurse; "not
a minit afther me pipe's out!"
"Fill it again," said Dick.
Mr Button made no reply. The pipe gurgled as he puffed at it--a
kind of death-rattle speaking of almost immediate extinction.
"Mr Button!" said Emmeline. She was holding her nose in the air
and sniffing; seated to windward of the smoker, and out of the
pigtail-poisoned air, her delicate sense of smell perceived
something lost to the others."
"What is it, acushla?"
"I smell something."
"What d'ye say you smell?"
"What's it like?" asked Dick, sniffing hard. "_I_ don't smell
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 deck-
house; he had cleared the stuff off the table, broken open the
windows to get the musty smell away, and placed the mattresses
from the captain and mate's cabins on the floor.
When the children were in bed and asleep, he went to the
starboard rail, and, leaning on it, looked over the moonlit sea. He
was thinking of ships as his wandering eye roved over the sea
spaces, little dreaming of the message that the perfumed breeze
was bearing him. The message that had been received and dimly
understood by E mmeline. Then he leaned with his back to the rail
and his hands in his pockets. He was not thinking now, he was
The basis of the Irish character as exemplified by Paddy Button is
a profound laziness mixed with a profound melancholy. Yet Paddy,
in his left-handed way, was as hard a worker as any man on board
ship; and as for melancholy, he was the life and soul of the
fo'cs'le. Yet there they were, the laziness and the melancholy,
only waiting to be tapped.
As he stood with his hands thrust deep in his pockets, longshore
fashion, counting the dowels in the planking of the deck by the
mooniight, he was reviewing the "old days." The tale of Buck
M'Cann had recalled them, and across all the salt seas he could
see the moonlight on the Connemara mountains, and hear the sea-
gulls crying on the thunderous beach where each wave has behind
it three thousand miles of sea.
Suddenly Mr Button came back from the mountains of Connemara
to find himself on the deck of the Shenandoah; and he instantly
became possessed by fears. Beyond the white deserted deck,
barred by the shadows of the standing rigging, he could see the
door of the caboose. Suppose he should suddenly see a head pop
out or, worse, a shadowy form go in?
He turned to the deck-house, where the children were sound
asleep, and where, in a few minutes, he, too, was sound asleep
beside them, whilst all night long the brig rocked to the gentle
swell of the Pacific, and the breeze blew, bringing with it the
perfume of flowers.
THE TRAGEDY OF THE BOATS
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
"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.
"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
"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
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 half-
sack of potatoes, a saw which he found in the caboose, the
precious coil of tobacco, and a lot of other odds and ends he
transhipped, sinking the little dinghy several strakes in the
process. Also, of course, he took the breaker of water, and the
remains of the biscuit and tinned stuff they had brought on board.
These being stowed, and the dinghy ready, he went forward with
the children to the bow, to see how the island was bearing.
It had loomed up nearer during the hour or so in which he had been
collecting and storing the things--nearer, and more to the right,
which meant that the brig was being borne by a fairly swift
current, and that she would pass it, leaving it two or three miles
to starboard. It was well they had command of the dinghy.
"The sea's all round it," said Emmeline, who was seated on
Paddy's shoulder, holding on tight to him, and gazing upon the
island, the green of whose trees was now visible, an oasis of
verdure in the sparkling and seraphic blue.
"Are we going there, Paddy?" asked Dick, holding on to a stay, and
straining his eyes towards the land.
"Ay, are we," said Mr Button. "Hot foot--five knots, if we're
makin' wan; and it's ashore we'll be by noon, and maybe sooner."
The breeze had freshened up, and was blowing dead from the
island, as though the island were making a weak attempt to blow
them away from it.
Oh, what a fresh and perfumed breeze it was! All sorts of tropical
growing things had joined their scent in one bouquet.
"Smell it," said Emmeline, expanding her small nostrils. "That's
what I smelt last night, only it's stronger now."
The last reckoning taken on board the Northumberland had
proved the ship to be south by east of the Marquesas; this was
evidentIy one of those small, lost islands that lie here and there
scuth by east of the Marquesas. Islands the most lonely and
beautiful in the world.
As they gazed it grew before them, and shifted still more to the
right. It was hilly and green now, though the trees could not be
clearly made out; here, the green was lighter in colour, and there,
darker. A rim of pure white marble seemed to surround its base. It
was foam breaking on the barrier reef.
In another hour the feathery foliage of the cocoanut palms could
be made out, and the old sailor judged it time to take to the boat.
He lifted Emmeline, who was clasping her luggage, over the rail
on to the channel, and deposited her in the sternsheets; then Dick.
In a moment the boat was adrift, the mast steeped, and the
Shenandoah left to pursue her mysterious voyage at the will of
the currents of the sea.
"You're not going to the island, Paddy," cried Dick, as the old man
put the boat on the port tack.
"You be aisy," replied the other, "and don't be larnin' your
gran'mother. How the divil d'ye think I'd fetch the land sailin'
dead in the wind's eye?"
"Has the wind eyes?"
Mr Button did not answer the question. He was troubled in his
mind. What if the island were inhabited? He had spent several
years in the South Seas. He knew the people of the Marquesas and
Samoa, and liked them. But here he was out of his bearings.
However, all the troubling in the world was of no use. It was a
case of the island or the deep sea, and, putting the boat on the
starboard tack, he lit his pipe and leaned back with the tiller in
the crook of his arm. His keen eyes had made out from the deck of
the brig an opening in the reef, and he was making to run the
dinghy abreast of the opening, and then take to the sculls and row
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
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.
THE LAKE OF AZURE
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
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
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
OPEN it!" cried Dick, mad with curiosity.
"What's in it, honey?" asked the old sailor, who was as interested
"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
"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 sugar-
tongs and six spoons. Then she arrayed the whole lot on the sand.
"Well, if that don't beat all!" said Paddy.
"And whin are you goin' to ax me to tay with you?"
"Some time," replied Emmeline, collecting the things, and
carefully repacking them.
Mr Button finished his pipe, tapped the ashes out, and placed it in
"I'll be afther riggin' up a bit of a tint," said he, as he rose to his
feet, "to shelter us from the jew to-night; but I'll first have a
look at the woods to see if I can find wather. Lave your box with
the other things, Emmeline; there's no one here to take it."
Emmeline left her box on the heap of things that Paddy had placed
in the shadow of the cocoa-nut trees, took his hand, and the three
entered the grove on the right.
It was like entering a pine forest; the tall symmetrical stems of
the trees seemed set by mathematical law, each at a given
distance from the other. Whichever way you entered a twilight
alley set with tree boles lay before you. Looking up you saw at an
immense distance above a pale green roof patined with sparkling
and flashing points of light, where the breeze was busy playing
with the green fronds of the trees.
"Mr Button," murmured Emmeline, "we won't get lost, will we?"
"Lost! No, faith; sure we're goin' uphill, an' all we have to do is to
come down again, when we want to get back--'ware nuts!" A green
nut detached from up above came down rattling and tumbling and
hopped on the ground. Paddy picked it up. "It's a green cucanut,"
said he, putting it in his pocket (it was not very much bigger than
a Jaffa orange), "and we'll have it for tay."
"That's not a cocoa-nut," said Dick; "coco-anuts are brown. I had
five cents once an' I bought one, and scraped it out and y'et it."
"When Dr. Sims made Dicky sick," said Emmeline, "he said the
wonder t'im was how Dicky held it all."
"Come on," said Mr Button, "an' don't be talkin', or it's the
Cluricaunes will be after us."
"What's cluricaunes?" demanded Dick.
"Little men no bigger than your thumb that make the brogues for
the Good People."
"Whisht, and don't be talkin'. Mind your head, Em'leen, or the
branches'll be hittin' you in the face."
They had left the cocoa-nut grove, and entered the chapparel. Here
was a deeper twilight, and all sorts of trees lent their foliage to
make the shade. The artu with its delicately diamonded trunk, the
great bread-fruit tall as a beech, and shadowy as a cave, the aoa,
and the eternal cocoa-nut palm all grew here like brothers. Great
ropes of wild vine twined like the snake of the laocoon from tree
to tree, and all sorts of wonderful flowers, from the orchid
shaped like a butterfly to the scarlet hibiscus, made beautiful the
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 water-
fall sprang a banana tree laden with fruit; it had immense leaves
six feet long and more, and broad as a dinner-table. One could see
the golden glint of the ripe fruit through the foliage.
In a moment Mr Button had kicked off his shoes and was going up
the rock like a cat, absolutely, for it seemed to give him nothing
to climb by.
"Hurroo!" cried Dick in admiration. "Look at Paddy!"
Emmeline looked, and saw nothing but swaying leaves.
"Stand from under!" he shouted, and next moment down came a
huge bunch of yellow-jacketed bananas. Dick shouted with
delight, but Emmeline showed no excitement: she had discovered
DEATH VEILED WITH LICHEN
"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 cocoa-
palm, 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 sea-
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 hull-
down on the horizon. Save for this blemish the whole wheel of the
sea was empty and serene.
Emmeline had not followed them up to the rock. She had gone
botanising where some bushes displayed great bunches of the
crimson arita berries as if to show to the sun what Earth could do
in the way of manufacturing poison. She plucked two great
bunches of them, and with this treasure came to the base of the
"Lave thim berries down!" cried Mr Button, when she had
attracted his attention. "Don't put thim in your mouth; thim's the
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.
ECHOES OF FAIRY-LAND
"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.
"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
"`I've sane the Good People,' says he, `up on the field beyant,' says
he; `and they've got the goose,' says he, `but, begorra, I've saved
.the bottle,' he says. "Dhraw the cork and give me a taste of it,
for me heart's in me throat, and me tongue's like a brick-kil.'
"An' whin we come to prize the cork out of the bottle, there was
nothin' in it; an' whin we went next marnin' to look for the goose,
it was gone. But there was the stone, sure enough, and the marks
on it of the little brogues of the chap that'd played the bagpipes
and who'd be doubtin' there were fairies after that?"
The children said nothing for a while, and then Dick said:
"Tell us about Cluricaunes, and how they make the boots."
"Whin I'm tellin' you about Cluricaunes," said Mr Button, "it's the
truth I'm tellin' you, an' out of me own knowlidge, for I've spoke
to a man that's held wan in his hand; he was me own mother's
brother, Con Cogan--rest his sowl! Con was six fut two, wid a
long, white face; he'd had his head bashed in, years before I was
barn, in some ruction or other, an' the docthers had japanned him
with a five-shillin' piece beat flat."
Dick interposed with a question as to the process, aim, and object
of japanning, but Mr Button passed the question by.
"He'd been bad enough for seein' fairies before they japanned him,
but afther it, begorra, he was twiced as bad. I was a slip of a lad
at the time, but me hair near turned grey wid the tales he'd tell
of the Good People and their doin's. One night they'd turn him into
a harse an' ride him half over the county, wan chap on his back an'
another runnin' behind, shovin' furze prickles under his tail to
make him buck-lep. Another night it's a dunkey he'd be, harnessed
to a little cart, an' bein' kicked in the belly and made to draw
stones. Thin it's a goose he'd be, runnin' over the common wid his
neck stritched out squawkin', an' an old fairy woman afther him
wid a knife, till it fair drove him to the dhrink; though, by the
same token, he didn't want much dhrivin'.
"And what does he do when his money was gone, but tear the five-
shillin' piece they'd japanned him wid aff the top of his hed, and
swaps it for a bottle of whisky, and that was the end of him."
Mr Button paused to relight his pipe, which had gone out, and
there was silence for a moment.
The moon had risen, and the song of the surf on the reef filled the
whole night with its lullaby. The broad lagoon lay waving and
rippling in the moonlight to the incoming tide. Twice as broad it
always looked seen by moonlight or starlight than when seen by
day. Occasionally the splash of a great fish would cross the
silence, and the ripple of it wouId pass a moment later across the
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
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.
FAIR PICTURES IN THE BLUE
"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 hill-
top from whence you might see, to use Paddy's expression, "to the
back of beyond"; all these were fine enough in their way, but they
were nothing to the lagoon.
Deep down where the coral branches were you might watch,
whilst Paddy fished, all sorts of things disporting on the sand
patches and between the coral tufts. Hermit crabs that had
evicted whelks, wearing the evicted ones' shells--an obvious
misfit; sea anemones as big as roses. Flowers that closed up in an
irritable manner if you lowered the hook gently down and touched
them; extraordinary shells that walked about on feelers, elbowing
the crabs out of the way and terrorising the whelks. The overlords
of the sand patches, these; yet touch one on the back with a stone
tied to a bit of string, and down he would go flat, motionless and
feigning death. There was a lot of human nature lurking in the
depths of the lagoon, comedy and tragedy.
An English rock-pool has its marvels. You can fancy the marvels
of this vast rock-pool, nine miles round and varying from a third
to half a mile broad, swarming with tropic life and flights of
painted fishes; where the glittering albicore passed beneath the
boat like a fire and a shadow; where the boat's reflection lay as
clear on the bottom as though the water were air; where the sea,
pacified by the reef, told, like a little child, its dreams.
It suited the lazy humour of Mr Button that he never pursued the
lagoon more than half a mile or so on either side of the beach. He
would bring the fish he caught ashore, and with the aid of his
tinder box and dead sticks make a blazing fire on the sand; cook
fish and breadfruit and taro roots, helped and hindered by the
children. They fixed the tent amidst the trees at the edge of the
chapparel, and made it larger and more abiding with the aid of the
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
THE POETRY OF LEARNING
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
One might have fancied her in an experimental mood, saying: "Let
me put these buds of civilisation back into my nursery and see
what they will become--how they will blossom, and what will be
the end of it all."
Just as Emmeline had brought away her treasured box from the
Northumberland, Dick had conveyed with him a small linen bag
that chinked when shaken. It contained marbles. Small olive-green
marbles and middle-sized ones of various colours; glass marbles
with splendid coloured cores; and one large old grandfather
marble too big to be played with, but none the less to be
worshipped--a god marble.
Of course one cannot play at marbles on board ship, but one can
play WITH them. They had been a great comfort to Dick on the
voyage. He knew them each personally, and he would roll them out
on the mattress of his bunk and review them nearly every day,
whilst Emmeline looked on.
One day Mr Button, noticing Dick and the girl kneeling opposite
each other on a flat, hard piece of sand near the water's edge,
strolled up to see what they were doing. They were playing
marbles. He stood with his hands in his pockets and his pipe in his
mouth watching and criticising the game, pleased that the
"childer" were amused. Then he began to be amused himself, and in
a few minutes more he was down on his knees taking a hand;
Emmeline, a poor player and an unenthusiastic one, withdrawing
in his favour.
After that it was a common thing to see them playing together,
the old sailor on his knees, one eye shut, and a marble against the
nail of his horny thumb taking aim; Dick and Emmeline on the
watch to make sure he was playing fair, their shrill voices
echoing amidst the cocoa-nut trees with cries of "Knuckle down,
Paddy, knuckle down!" He entered into all their amusements just
as one of themselves. On high and rare occasions Emmeline would
open her precious box, spread its contents and give a tea-party,
Mr Button acting as guest or president as the case might be.
"Is your tay to your likin', ma'am?" he would enquire; and
Emmeline, sipping at her tiny cup, would invariably make answer:
"Another lump of sugar, if you please, Mr Button"; to which would
come the stereotyped reply: "Take a dozen, and welcome; and
another cup for the good of your make."
Then Emmeline would wash the things in imaginary water, replace
them in the box, and every one would lose their company manners
and become quite natural again.
"Have you ever seen your name, Paddy?" asked Dick one morning.
"Seen me which?"
"Arrah, don't be axin' me questions," replied the other. "How the
divil could I see me name
"Wait and I'll show you," replied Dick.
He ran and fetched a piece of cane, and a minute later on the salt-
white sand in face of orthography and the sun appeared these
B U T T E N
"Faith, an' it's a cliver boy y'are," said Mr Button admiringly, as
he leaned luxuriously against a cocoa-nut tree, and contemplated
Dick's handiwork. "And that's me name, is it? What's the letters
Dick enumerated them.
"I'll teach you to do it, too," he said. "I'll teach you to write your
name, Paddy--would you like to write your name, Paddy?"
"No," replied the other, who only wanted to be let smoke his pipe
in peace; "me name's no use to me."
But Dick, with the terrible gadfly tirelessness of childhood, was
not to be put off, and the unfortunate Mr Button had to go to
school despite himself. In a few days he could achieve the act of
drawing upon the sand characters somewhat like the above, but
not without prompting, Dick and Emmeline on each side of him,
breathless for fear of a mistake.
"Which next?" would ask the sweating scribe, the perspiration
pouring from his forehead--"which next? An' be quick, for it's
moithered I am."
"N. N--that's right. Ow, you're making it crooked!--THAT'S right--
there! it's all there now--Hurroo!"
"Hurroo!" would answer the scholar, waving his old hat over his
own name, and "Hurroo!" would answer the cocoa-nut grove
echoes; whilst the far, faint "Hi, hi!" of the wheeling gulls on the
reef would come over the blue lagoon as if in acknowledgment of
the deed, and encouragement.
The appetite comes with teaching. The pleasantest mental
exercise of childhood is the instruction of one's elders. Even
Emmeline felt this. She took the geography class one day in a
timid manner, putting her little hand first in the great horny fist
of her friend.
"I know g'ography."
"And what's that?" asked Mr Button.
This stumped Emmeline for a moment.
"It's where places are," she said at last.
"Which places?" enquired he.
"All sorts of places," replied Emmeline. "Mr Button!"
"What is it, darlin'?"
"Would you like to learn g'ography?"
"I'm not wishful for larnin'," said the other hurriedly. "It makes
me head buzz to hear them things they rade out of books."
"Paddy," said Dick, who was strong on drawing that afternoon,
"look here." He drew the following on the sand:
[a bad drawing of an elephant]
"That's an elephant," he said in a dubious voice.
Mr Button grunted, and the sound was by no means filled with
enthusiastic assent. A chill fell on the proceedings.
Dick wiped the elephant slowly and regretfully out, whilst
Emmeline felt disheartened. Then her face suddenly cleared; the
seraphic smile came into it for a moment--a bright idea had
"Dicky," she said, "draw Henry the Eight."
Dick's face brightened. He cleared the sand and drew the
"THAT'S not Henry the Eight," he explained, "but he will be in a
minute. Daddy showed me how to draw him; he's nothing till he
gets his hat on."
"Put his hat on, put his hat on!" implored Emmeline, gazing
alternately from the figure on the sand to Mr Button's face,
watching for the delighted smile with which she was sure the old
man would greet the great king when he appeared in all his glory.
Then Dick with a single stroke of the cane put Henry's hat on.
Now no portrait could be liker to his monk-hunting majesty than
the above, created with one stroke of a cane (so to speak), yet Mr
Button remained unmoved.
"I did it for Mrs Sims," said Dick regretfully, "and she said it was
the image of him."
"Maybe the hat's not big enough," said Emmeline, turning her head
from side to side as she gazed at the picture. It looked right, but
she felt there must be something wrong, as Mr Button did not
applaud. Has not every true artist felt the same before the silence
of some critic?
Mr Button tapped the ashes out of his pipe and rose to stretch
himself, and the class rose and trooped down to.the lagoon edge,
leaving Henry and his hat a figure on the sand to be obliterated by
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
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
"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.
THE DEVIL'S CASK
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
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
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
"What have you found?" piped Emmeline, who was always
interested in new things.
"Something funny!" came back from amidst the trees.
Presently he returned; but he was not running now. He was
walking slowly and carefully, holding the shell as if it contained
something precious that he was afraid would escape.
"Paddy, I turned over the old barrel and it had a cork thing in it,
and I pulled it out, and the barrel is full of awfully funny-
smelling stuff--I've brought some for you to see."
He gave the shell into the old sailor's hands. There was about half
a gill of yellow liquid in the shell. Paddy smelt it, tasted, and
gave a shout.
"What is it, Paddy?" asked Emmeline.
"WHERE did you say you got it--in the ould bar'l, did you say?"
asked Mr Button, who seemed dazed and stunned as if by a blow.
"Yes; I pulled the cork thing out--"
"DID YIZ PUT IT BACK?"
"Oh, glory be to God! Here have I been, time out of mind, sittin' on
an ould empty bar'l, with me tongue hangin' down to me heels for
the want of a drink, and it full of rum all the while!"
He took a sip of the stuff, tossed the lot off, closed his lips tight
to keep in the fumes, and shut one eye.
Mr Button scrambled to his feet. They followed him through the
chapparel till they reached the water source. There lay the little
green barrel; turned over by the restless Dick, it lay with its bung
pointing to the leaves above. You could see the hollow it had made
in the soft soil during the years. So green was it, and so like an
object of nature, a bit of old tree-bole, or a lichen-stained
boulder, that though the whalemen had actually watered from the
source, its real nature had not been discovered.
Mr Button tapped on it with the butt-end of the shell: it was
nearly full. Why it had been left there, by whom, or how, there
was no one to tell. The old lichen-covered skulls might have told,
could they have spoken.
"We'll rowl it down to the beach," said Paddy, when he had taken
another taste of it.
He gave Dick a sip. The boy spat it out, and made a face, then,
pushing the barrel before them, they began to roll it downhill to
the beach, Emmeline running before them crowned with flowers.
THE RAT HUNT
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"
"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 what-
not, as real-looking as the real things, and though they possess
his mind for a moment, almost immediately he recognises that he
is suffering from a delusion.
The children laughed, and Mr Button laughed in a stupid sort of
"Sure, it was only a game I was playin'--there was no Cluricaune
at all--it's whin I dhrink rum it puts it into me head to play
games like that. Oh, be the Holy Poker, there's red rats comin' out
of the sand!"
He got on his hands and knees and scuttle off towards the cocoa-
nut trees, looking over his shoulder with a bewildered expression
on his face. He would have risen to fly, only he dared not stand up.
The children laughed and danced round him as he crawled.
"Look at the rats, Paddy! look at the rats!" cried Dick.
"They're in front of me!" cried the afflicted one, making a vicious
grab at an imaginary rodent's tail. "Ran dan the bastes! now
they're gone. Musha, but it's a fool I'm makin' of meself."
"Go on, Paddy," said Dick; "don't stop. Look there--there's more
rats coming after you!"
"Oh, whisht, will you?" replied Paddy, taking his seat on the sand,
and wiping his brow. "They're aff me now."
The children stood by, disappointed of their game. Good acting
appeals to children just as much as to grown-up people. They
stood waiting for another excess of humour to take the comedian,
and they had not to wait long.
A thing like a flayed horse came out of the lagoon and up the
beach, and this time Button did not crawl away. He got on his feet
"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!"
Back to Full Books