The Blue lagoon: A Romance
H. de Vere Stacpoole
Part 4 out of 5
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 sapphire-
coloured bird with a few dove-coloured tail feathers, coral beak,
and bright, intelligent eyes. A few days ago each of these things
was imprisoned in a pale green egg. A month ago they were
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.
THE VANISHING OF EMMELINE
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
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,
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:
THE VANISHING OF EMMELINE (continued)
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
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 thousand-
and-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
"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
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
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.
THE LAGOON OF FIRE
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 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
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,
The terror and the prolonged shock of it reduced them from
thinking beings to the level of frightened animals whose one
instinct is preservation.
How long the horror lasted they could not tell, when, like a
madman who pauses for a moment in the midst of his struggles
and stands stock-still, the wind ceased blowing, and there was
peace. The centre of the cyclone was passing over the island.
Looking up, one saw a marvellous sight. The air was full of birds,
butterflies, insects--all hanging in the heart of the storm and
travelling with it under its protection.
Though the air was still as the air of a summer's day, from north,
south, east, and west, from every point of the compass, came the
yell of the hurricane.
There was something shocking in this.
In a storm one is so beaten about by the wind that one has no
time to think: one is half stupefied. But in the dead centre of a
cyclone one is in perfect peace. The trouble is all around, but it is
not here. One has time to examine the thing like a tiger in a cage,
listen to its voice and shudder at its ferocity.
The girl, holding the baby to her breast, sat up gasping. The baby
had come to no harm; it had cried at first when the thunder broke,
but now it seemed impassive, almost dazed. Dick stepped from
under the tree and looked at the prodigy in the air.
The cyclone had gathered on its way sea-birds and birds from the
land; there were gulls, electric white and black man-of-war
birds, butterflies, and they all seemed imprisoned under a great
drifting dome of glass. As they went, travelling like things
without volition and in a dream, with a hum and a roar the south-
west quadrant of the cyclone burst on the island, and the whole
bitter business began over again.
It lasted for hours, then towards midnight the wind fell; and when
the sun rose next morning he came through a cloudless sky,
without a trace of apology for the destruction caused by his
children the winds. He showed trees uprooted and birds lying
dead, three or four canes remaining of what had once been a
house, the lagoon the colour of a pale sapphire, and a glass-green,
foam-capped sea racing in thunder against the reef.
THE STRICKEN WOODS
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
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
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
A FALLEN IDOL
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
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
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 KEEPER OF THE LAGOON
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
Emmeline screamed, and pointed to the thing behind the
swimmer. He turned, saw it, dropped the oar and made for the
boat. She had seized the remaining scull and stood with it poised,
then she hurled it blade foremost at the form in the water, now
fully visible, and close on its prey.
She could not throw a stone straight, yet the scull went like an
arrow to the mark, balking the pursuer and saving the pursued. In
a moment more his leg was over the gunwale, and he was saved.
But the scull was lost.
THE HAND OF THE SEA
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
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.
THE SECRET OF THE AZURE
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 to-
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
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 swing-
door and entered a great room. The clink and rattle of a dozen
typewriters filled the place, and all the hurry of business; clerks
passed and came with sheaves of correspondence in their hands;
and Wannamaker himself, rising from bending over a message
which he was correcting on one of the typewriters' tables, saw
the newcomer and led him to the private office.
"What is it?" said Lestrange.
"Only this," said the other, taking up a slip of paper with a name
and address on it. "Simon J. Fountain, of 45 Rathray Street, West-
-that's down near the wharves--says he has seen your ad. in an
old number of a paper, and he thinks he can tell you something. He
did not specify the nature of the intelligence, but it might be
worth finding out.
"I will go there," said Lestrange.
"Do you know Rathray Street?"
Wannamaker went out and called a boy and gave him some
directions; then Lestrange and the boy started.
Lestrange left the office without saying "Thank you," or taking
leave in any way of the advertising agent who did not feel in the
least affronted, for he knew his customer.
Rathray Street is, or was before the earthquake, a street of small
clean houses. It had a seafaring look that was accentuated by the
marine perfumes from the wharves close by and the sound of
steam winches loading or discharging cargo--a sound that ceased
not a night or day as the work went on beneath the sun or the
sizzling arc lamps.
No. 45 was almost exactly like its fellows,. neither better nor
worse; and the door was opened by a neat, prim woman, small, and
of middle age. Commonplace she was, no doubt, but not
commonplace to Lestrange.
"Is Mr Fountain in?" he asked. "I have come about the
"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
A man of his temperament must necessarily, even under the
happiest circumstances, suffer in going through the world; the
fine fibre always suffers when brought into contact with the
coarse. These people were as kindly disposed as anyone else. The
advertisement and the face and manners of the visitor might have
told them that it was not the time for delay, yet they kept him
waiting whilst they arranged bed-quilts and put medicine bottles
straight as if he could see!
At last the door opened, and the woman said:
"Will you step this way, sir?"
She showed him into a bedroom opening off the passage. The room
was neat and clean, and had that indescribable appearance which
marks the bedroom of the invalid.
In the bed, making a mountain under the counterpane with an
enormously distended stomach, lay a man, black-bearded, and
with his large, capable, useless hands spread out on the coverlet-
-hands ready and willing, but debarred from work. Without moving
his body, he turned his head slowly and looked at the newcomer.
This slow movement was not from weakness or disease, it was
the slow, emotionless nature of the man speaking.
"This is the gentleman, Silas," said the woman, speaking over
Lestrange's shoulder. Then she withdrew and closed the door.
"Take a chair, sir," said the sea captain, flapping one of his hands
on the counterpane as if in wearied protest against his own
helplessness. "I haven't the pleasure of your name, but the missus
tells me you're come about the advertisement I lit on yester-
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 tissue-
paper covering. He counted them as if entering up the tale of some
trust, and placed them on the newspaper.
"When did you find them?" asked Lestrange, speaking with his
face still covered.
"A matter of over seven years ago," replied the captain, "we'd put
in to water at a place south of the line--Palm Tree Island we
whalemen call it, because of the tree at the break of the lagoon.
One of my men brought it aboard, found it in a shanty built of
sugarcanes which the men bust up for devilment."
"Good God!" said Lestrange. "Was there no one there--nothing but
"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
"How big is the island?"
"Oh, a fairish middle-sized island--no natives. I've heard tell it's
tabu; why, the Lord only knows--some crank of the Kanakas I
s'pose. Anyhow, there's the findings--you recognise them?"
"Seems strange," said the captain, "that I should pick em up;
seems strange your advertisement out, and the answer to it lying
amongst my gear, but that's the way things go."
"Strange!" said the other. "It's more than strange."
"Of course," continued the captain, "they might have been on the
island hid away som'ere, there's no saying; only appearances are
against it. Of course they might be there now unbeknownst to you
"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
"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."
"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
"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."
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