THE GARDEN OF GOD
H. deVERE STACPOOLE
A Sequel to "The Blue Lagoon"
FOREWORD:—Readers of “The Blue Lagoon” will recall that it described the casting ashore on an uninhabited isle in the South Seas of two children,
Dick and Emmeline Lestrange— the son and niece of Arthur Lestrange. They grew up together in a wild, uncivilized stale, fell in love, and drifted out to sea in a dinghy with their child. About the same time Lestrange, after years of searching, had at last learned of their whereabouts and was fast approaching the island in the “Raralonga This story opens at the moment he comes across the drifting dinghy.
His quick sailor’s mind reckoned rapidly. The island they were making for in hopes of finding the longlost ones was close to them, the northward-running current would have brought the dinghy, some inexplicable sea-chance had drifted them from shore; they were here, come to meet the man who had sought them for so
many, many years—what a fatality!
Lestrange had sunk as if crushed down by some hand. Taking the girl’s arm, he drew it towards him. “Look!” he cried, as if speaking to High Heaven. “And my boy—oh, look! Dick—Emmeline—oh, God! my God! Why? Why? Why?”
He dashed his head on the gunnel. Far away above the great gull watched with a steady and unwavering gaze.
It saw the whale-boat making back for the schooner with the dinghy in tow, it saw the forms it hungered for taken on board, it saw the preparations on deck and the bodies of the lost ones committed to the deep. Then, turning with a cry, it drifted on the wind and vanished, like an evil spirit, from the blue.
The Child I.
TO’” said Lestrange, “they are dead.” The whaleA ^ boat and the dinghy lay together, gunnels grinding as they lifted to the swell.. Two cablelengths away lay the schooner from which the whale-boat had come; beyond and around from sky-line to sky-line the blue Pacific desolate beneath the day.
“They are dead.”
He was gazing at the forms in the dinghy, the form of a girl with a child embraced in one arm, and a youth. Clasping one another, they seemed asleep.
A predatory gull, far abovewheeling and slanting on the breezehad followed the dinghy for hours, held away by the awful and profound knowledge, born of instinct, that one of the castaways was still alive. But it still hung, waiting.
“The child is not dead,” said Stanistreet. He had reached forward and, gently separating the forms, had taken the child from the mother’s arms. It was warm, it moved, and as he handed it to the steersman, Lestrange, almost upsetting the boat, stood up. He had glimpsed the faces of the dead people. Clasping his head with both hands and staring at the forms before him, mad, distracted by the blow that Fate had suddenly dealt him, his voice rang out across the sea:—
Stanistreet, the captain of the schooner—Stanistreet, who knew the story of the lost children so well, knelt aghast just in the position in which he had handed the child t o the sailor in the stern sheets.
The truth took him by the throat. It must be so. These were no Kanakas drifted to sea— the dinghy alone might have told him that; these were the children they had come in search of, grown, mated, and—dead.
IT WAS just on daybreak, and the Raratonga, running before an eight-knot breeze, was boosting the star-shot water to snow.
Bowers, the bo’sun, an old British Navy quartermaster, was at the wheel, and Stanistreet, the captain, had just come on deck.
“Gentleman goin’ on all right, sir?” asked Bowers.
“Mr. Lestrange is still asleep, and thank God for it,” said Stanistreet; “and the child’s well. It woke, and I gave it a pannikin of condensed and water, and it’s in the starboard after bunk, asleep again.”
Stanistreet snuffed out the binnacle light; the day was now strong; the wind tepid, yet fresh from a thousand miles of ocean, bellying the sails, golden in the level sunblaze.
The thought of Lestrange was troubling him. Lestrange, since yesterday, had fallen into a sleep profound as though Nature had chloroformed him. As a matter of fact she had, but the cruelty of Nature lies in the fact that she uses her anaesthetics after instead of during the operations performed by Fate.
Leaning on the rail, the captain spat at the gold-tinged foam as though to get some bitter taste from his mouth.
Then came the thought, had he done right in holding on south for the island since yesterday? What would be the effect on Lestrange of the traces surely left there by the children?
He was thinking this when from below came a sound. Someone was moving about in the saloon, and Stanistreet. taking his courage in both hands, turned to the cabinhatch and went below.
HE ENTERED the saloon. The place was quite gay with the morning beams shining through the ports and skylight. Lestrange, who had been looking into the starboard after bunk, turned, and as
the two men came face to face Stanistreet saw at once that his fears were groundless. Lestrange had quite recovered himself.
“We are still keeping south?” said Lestrange.
“Yes." said the captain. "I carried on. 1 thought it beat, but what's your wishes in the matter?”
"South.” said Lestrange. "Come up on deck. I want to talk to you.”
Stamstreet followed closely, and when Lestrange walked to the port rail and stood with his hands upon it fronting the blazing east, the captain of the Raratonga came and stood beside him.
"Listen.” said Lestrange. "For twelve long years, as you kno». 1 sought for the children 1 loved, always sure that they aere alive, always uncertain as to their fate. I prayed that I might meet the children again. I prayed and prayed, and searched and sought, and yesterday my prayer was granted.
"My children were handed back to me by a merciful God—but they were dead! What a mockery! What an answer to the humble and heartfelt prayer of one of His poor creatures! Yesterday, as 1 lay broken in the cabin below whilst you were committing them to the deep. I blasphemed His name, w hilst He sat smiling in the Infinite. He who knows all things and does all things right.
"lusten. I fell asleep, and grief drove me beyond sleep into a world of visions, where I met the children. It was p.o dream. I saw them as 1 see you. 1 have seen the children and I am to see them again, for they are about to return.”
“Yes. return. They have told me the place but not the time. I am to go to the island, and they will come to me. I am to wait for them, and they will come to me.’’
He turned from the rail and went below. Stanistreet saw the steward come along with breakfast things—the Raratonga had a deck galley—and vanish down the cabinhatch; then he heard the voice of a child and the voice of Bowers, as if talking to it.
A minute later he reappeared with the "kid” wrapped in a bunk-blanket and clasped in one huge arm.
Plump, brown as a berry, auburn-haired and laughing, it was a very different child from the child that had come aboard yesterday.
"It pulled me beard,” said Bowers. “It’s as strong as Ham, b'gosh! There, out you get and play in the sun where you're used to.”
He turned the naked child out of the blanket on to the deck.
Presently, when he was leading the child away from the companion-hatch, Lestrange reappeared and joined Stanistreet near the wheel. Lestrange glanced at the sailor and his charge, but seemed to take little interest in it. or only that benign interest which he seemed now to bestow on everything animate and inanimate; it might have been the child of Bowers for all he seemed to care.
\ f EANWHILE the fo’c’sle had got wind of happen4 inp on deck, and even the watch that had turned in, turned out.
“Now then, now then," cried Mr. Bowers, “scatter off an’ dear, yourselves. Jim. fetch me that old tin bath tub outa the galley, and tell Jenkins to send’s a tow’l.”
He filled the bath with sea-water dipped up in a bucket, ar.d began the scrubbing and sponging, Jim, a long, lantern-jawed son of perdition, standing by with the towel, and the others looking on.
"What's his name?” asked Jim.
“Name!" cried Bowers. “How the blazes do you think
I know what his name is? Hasn’t got one-” Then, as
an afterthought, “Dick's his name, isn’t it, bo? Dick hey? Dick, &in’t that your name, hey?”
"Dick," repeated the laughing child, splashing the water. "Dick! Dick!”
"Ar.d Dick you'll be." said Bowers, with a last squeeze of the sponge, baptismal in its significance, though such a thought was far from the mind of the baptizer. “Now, hold me the tow’l—and there you are.’’
He finished off the drying and released the child, who at once made for Jim, of all people in the world, clasped him round the legs with his chubby little arms, and looked up in his face. Innocence adoring the biggest blackguard that ever footed Long ‘Wharf.
Then Stanistreet appeared from the saloon hatch and the fo'e'sle crowd melted, all but Jim.
“So Dick's your name, is it?” said Jim, unclasping the tiny hands and lifting the kid in his arms; “and what’s your other name? Tell’s your other name or up ye go over the rail, up ye go over the rail,” He danced the child in his arms, making pretence to throw it overboard.
"Em,” cried Dick, the warm arms of Jim maybe making in his misty mind the name of Emmeline, who had danced him so often. “Em—em.”
"And Dick M. you’ll be if you wants to,” said that worthy as he hoisted him on his shoulder and went aft in search of Jenkins, the steward, and condensed milk.
Seven bells had struck when along the blazing deck
came the voice of the look-out, plaintive as the voice of a gull.
It was Ericsson, the Swede, who gave the cry, and Stanistreet, pacing the deck, hands behind his back, suddenly became galvanized into activity. He sprang with one foot on the port bulwarks and a hand clutching the main ratlins, then, shading his eyes with the other hand, he looked.
Yes, it was the island, far, far away, but surely there, the thing unmapped, uncharted, known only to the gulls and the whalemen, and even to the whalemen scarcely known.
Lestrange had come on deck. He took the news from Stanistreet, walked forward a bit, and then, with arm upon the starboard rail, he stood and watched.
And now, minute by minute, rising like Aphrodite from the sea, the island before them bloomed to life. With every lift of the swell, the gull-strewn barrier reef showed its foam, whilst ever more distinctly beyond the reef, green and fair, grew the foliage, changing in depth of emerald to the touch of the wind.
A moment more the Raratonga held on, then as the wheel went over to the rattle of the rudder-chains, the main boom swung, hung for a moment supported by the topping lifts, and then lashed out to port, the bowsprit pointing straight for the break in the reef.
Lestrange, his hand on the starboard rail, stood with his eyes fixed on the vision before him—the home of his children. He had never dreamed of anything like this; all his visions of paradise fell to dust before what he saw, what he heard, what he felt, as the schooner, heeling to the wind, made like an arrow for the break; and now, in one miraculous moment, the break was passed and the great sea was gone—transformed into a silent lake of azure.
'T'HE Raratonga on a level keel and spilling the -wind from her sails came around in a grand curve on the dazzling water, her great shadow following her across the coral gardens of the lagoon floor, then the rumble of the anchor-chain echoed and passed away in the woods, and ship and shadow swung slowly to the tide and came to rest.
Stanistreet moved beside Lestrange, who turned, his face lit as if with the reflection of all the beauty around.
“Well, sir,” said the captain, “we’re in harbour at last. Shall I order the shore boat out?”
“Yes,” said the other, turning again to the rail. “Yes— but look, Stanistreet, look!”
“It’s fine!” said the sailor. “I never struck a prettier bit of beach—aye, it’s grand!”
“It is the Garden of God,” said Lestrange.
“He made it and He has kept it in all the wide world the one spot undefiled. He made it and He kept it for my children, and now He has led me to it that I should meet them . once again, and, dying, praise His name.”
The boat touched the sand where wavelets were breaking scarce a foot high, and Stanistreet, getting out, helped Lestrange over the gunnel.
“Take her back,” said the captain to the fellow who had been rowing stern oar; “you can stream her on a line. I’ll signal when I want you.”
Stanistreet, turning from the sea, cast his . eyes about. The extraordinary thing was that the mind of the sailor was perturbed, anxious, eager for any traces of the children, whilst the mind of Lestrange seemed absolutely at peace. They walked towards the trees.
TUST before entering the shadow of the trees Stanistreet paused. His quick eye had noticed something lying on the sand a little to the left. A great banana bunch half eaten by the birds, half ruined by the sun; something that must have lain there for days, and got there—how?
He bent to examine it. The stalk had been cut with a knife.
Straightening himself he found that Lestrange had noticed the fact.
“Look,” said Lestrange, “it has been cut.
Dick must have cut it from the tree, but there are no banana trees around here. Let us go on.”
Here, over the face of an age-worn rock, a little cascade flashed, to lose itself amidst the ferns, and above, like great candelabra, stood the banana trees holding their fullripe fruit to the sky.
“Look!” said Lestrange. He was pointing to a bunch of the fruit that had been cut and thrown down, and was lying close to the ferns; then he pointed to a diamondtrunked artu close to them on the left. A knife was sticking in the tree, left there by the banana-cutter—till his return.
Lestrange walked up close to the tree, glanced at the knife, and, without touching it, led the way on, past the waterfall, uphill, and as if sure of his ground.
“Look!” said Lestrange. He was pointing to the west, to a place where the trees broke towards the lagoon bank, leaving an open space green to the water. “Can you not see their house?”
v “I see nothing,” replied the sailor, shading his eyes against the sun.
“There, by the clearing; the shadow of the trees has taken it; not far from the water’s edge, close to that treecluster that stands out a bit to the open.”
/"'’LOSE to the left hand belt of trees and writh a little garden beside it where taro grew, it stood, leafthatched and built of cane. It had no door. The light of evening entered, exposing all the simple contents, mats carefully and neatly rolled up, a shelf where stood bowls cut from coconut-shell, a ball of twine, an old pair of scissors—all arranged neatly and in order. Some fishspears stood leaning against a corner, and in a small bowl at the extreme end of the shelf some flowers, once bright, but now withered. Yet, for all the cunning of the construction, the house had an unfinished look as though the builders had been called away before its full completion.
Lestrange stood before the open door of the house, so trustful, so naive, so like a nest, this house built by the lost children whose forms he had seen but a day ago, whose voices he had not heard for so many years. It was the sight of the neatly rolled mats, the bowl of withered flowers, and the carefully-arranged things on the shelf that shattered for a moment the great contentment born of his vision and the surety that he was to meet the children soon. These things said “Emmeline” as plainly as a voice, Emmeline so neat, so careful of things, so fond of flowers.
He broke down, and leaning his arm against the doorpost hid his face.
Stanistreet turned on his heel and walked rapidly down to the lagoon edge; he was hit nearly as badly as Lestrange. He stood for a long while to give the other time to recover, then he turned.
Lestrange had recovered. He was standing before the house with one of the fish-spears in his hand, examining it. Stanistreet walked up to him.
“Look,” said Lestrange, “how cleverly he has made the barbs; he was always clever with his hands.”
He placed the spear back where he had found it, and then, with a last look at the house, turned away.
“Come,” said he, “we must get back to the ship, for there is much to be done before she sails, and I want her to sail to-morrow. I will go to her with you now and return in the morning.”
“Return?” said Stanistreet. “Are you not going with us?”
“I shall never see San Francisco again,” replied Lestrange. “My home is here with my children who are coming to meet me, who have met me, for I feel them on either side of me. I cannot see them yet, but they will show themselves to me in time.”
Stanistreet made no reply for a moment. “And the child?” said he at length.
“Their child will remain with me,” said Lestrange.
TIM KEARNEY, long, red-headed, and lantern-jawed, was enlisted the third inhabitant of the Garden of God.
Stanistreet had pointed out to Lestrange the impossibility of the schooner putting out that day. Stores had to be landed, and not only landed, but brought round to the house away at the other side of the lagoon.
Lestrange did not want stores, and Kearney, who was a small eater for all his size and strength, and who in these latitudes was indifferent to meat, only wanted tobacco. All the same, the captain of the Rara,tonga had his own ideas on the subject. A cask of flour was broken out of the hold, the medicine chest was ransacked of pain-killer, opium, and Epsom salts; needles, threads, scissors, carpenter's tools, lines and fish-hooks—nothing was forgotten.
A shack had to be run up in the trees behind the house to hold the stores, and it was not until the morning of the third day that all was finished.
The old dinghy was overhauled and condemned, but Lestrange wished to keep it, so it was left, together with the dinghy of the Raratonga, for practical purposes, and they were towed round by the whale-boat to the sward by the house and tied up to the bank.
It was eleven o’clock in the morning when all was fin-
ished. Dick was playing about on the sward in the sun under the eye of Kearney, pipe in mouth and hands in pockets, and Lestrange was saying good-bye to hisskipper.
“Well, sir,” said Stanistreet, ‘T don’t think we’ve forgotten anything, and I’ve got your orders safe in mind and pocket—and—” He held out his hand and gripped that of the other.
“Good luck,” said Lestrange, taking his place in the boat.
Just before rounding the cape to the right the oars came in and the crew, scrambling to their feet, gave a cheer that roused the echoes in the trees. Then the boat passed away for ever beyond the cape.
NEXT night Lestrange, asleep in the house, was awakened by a booming sound, measured and rhythmical, that filled the night like the solemn beating of a great drum.
He rose, and passing the sleeping child, came out on the sward.
Kearney was out and standing in the moonlight, shading his eyes and staring towards the sea.
“It’s breakers on the reef, sir,” cried the sailor. “Lord! Look at it!”
Away over the reef the spray was flying to the evenspaced and ever-loudening thunder of the great rollers. The reef seemed on fire and fuming under the moon, while jets of spindrift rose like sheeted ghosts from the hurricane seas bursting on the outer beach, rose and dissolved and vanished in an atmosphere windless and still as crystal.
It was the dead calm of the night that made the vision appalling, together with the fact that the anger of the sea was still rising. Above the sheeting spray the gulls were flying wildly in the moonlight, and above their voices louder and louder came the thunder of the breakers.
The woods were now echoing to the sound of it, and now, like a line of crystal above the reef, showed the head of the first breaching wave.
It broke in snow and smoke, sheeting into the lagoon, and was followed by two others. That was the climax; as
the terror came so it went, dying gradually down till at last nothing was left but the old eternal murmur of the surf.
“Well,” said Kearney, “that beats all. Earth quake? No, sir. I’m thinking there’s been some big storm up north there, one of them cyclones, and the push of it has come down pilin’ up against tide an’ current. Lord help the schooner if she’s met it! The sea’s big still; listen to that surf; shall us run over to the reef, sir, and have a look?”
On the outer beach the rollers were still
coming in, no longer gigantic, yet great, rushing beneath the moon to break in thunderbursts that seemed ruled by the beat of a metronome.
Marching from the north, where, against the sunset of the day before, the sails of the Raratonga had passed from sight beyond the sea-line.
The Children Return I.
FOR weeks after that night, Kearney, though busy and contented enough, was possessed by the uneasy feeling that maybe they were marooned for good and all. If the Raratonga never came back, why, then, God help them! It might be years before a ship came along.
Working in the patch of yams, fishing, or what-not, he worried over this business in private; not caring to speak of it to Lestrange, he sometimes spoke of it to Dick. Dick, almost as dumb as a dog, had words, but no use for connected speech as yet; sometimes thoughtful, nearly always busy, the child seemed to live a life of his own, and, though fast friends with the man, was quite happy when left by himself.
Sometimes the man would take him out in the dinghy when he went fishing and Lestrange was otherwise employed, and the child with its chin over the gunnel would watch without a word, or crooning to itself while the bright-coloured fish passed or nosed the bait.
“Aye, them’s big fish,” said Kearney one morning, as three gropers went by in line of battle and vanished into the world of crystal beyond. “Hallo!” a rock cod had taken the bait; he hauled it fighting on board, and as it floundered on the bottom boards Dick caught it in his chubby hands.
“Fish!” said Dick.
“Aye, now you’re talking,” said the other, pleased to hear the word he had uttered repeated back to him, and holding up the fish with a finger through the gills.
He handed the fish to the child, who, clutching it by the tail and through the gills, placed it carefully in the shadow of the thwart where the sun could not get at it.
“Weil, I’m damned,” said Kearney to himself. If Dick had suddenly made a long oration in Latin the sailor could not have been very much more surprised than he was at this revelation of care and forethought. It was like a flash of light revealing the child’s upbringing, and the fact that the people of the wild begin their education in the school of necessity, which is not a school of languages.
He rebaited and dropped his hook, talking to the child as he did so.
“Did your daddy teach you that, eh? WTell, you’re a cleverer chap than I thought—don’t be tanglin’ the line; there, you can hold it if you want.” He let the little hand clutch the line without leaving go of it himself and they fished in partnership, Dick between his knees and helping to haul in the catches. But from that day he began to take a different and more lively interest in the child, and as the weeks passed the bother about the Raratonga began to fade; there was no use in bothering, for one thing, and for another the island life was beginning to clutch him.
During the first few months Lestrange’s mind was so busy, so intrigued with the new surroundings, so intent on completing the house, clearing the yam-patch of weeds, and finishing what the lost children had left undone, that time passed as it passed for Kearney; then, gradually, and as though time were losing the feathers of his wings one by one, the days began to lengthen for Lestrange.
He talked little nowadays and his face had lost something of that other-world look, but what he said was always definite and to the point; his manner was more normal, and if the sailor had been questioned as to his condition, he would have given it as his opinion that the gentleman was “coming round.”
ONE day, moved by a spirit of restlessness, Lestrange went off by himself through the woods, making towards the hill-top. It was the first time he had gone there alone, and when he reached the great boulder that crowned the rise he climbed it. Resting on its upper face he looked far and wide across the sea, northward where the Raratonga had vanished and westward wdiere the sun would vanish that evening, the vast blue sea so beautiful from here, the sea that had taken his children—for ever.
These were days when the horizon was not, the azure of sea dimming off into a luminous haze flowing up to the blue of sky.
Lestrange, with his eyes fixed on the sea-line, seemed fallen into a dream; then slowly recovering himself, he rose from his half-recumbent position, climbed down the rock, and began the descent of the hill-side.
To reach the sward he had to pass through a bad patch where the ground was moist and where things grew with a luxuriance unknown on any other part of the island; trees living, trees dead and rotting, unknown sappy plants and cables of Hantasse, rope convolvulus, and python lianas made this place difficult; the air was like the air of a conservatory, and to lose oneself here would be easy, but it had never troubled him—his sense of direction was keen and the slight downhill trend of the ground was guide enough.
There was about this place the vague uncanny something that clings to the rooms of an old deserted house. One felt oneself closed in, yet not alone.
Here, as on the other side of the Island, there was a little stream, a thing scarcely a foot broad, that passed chuckling, half hidden by ground-leaves and making on either side of it a zone of marsh. Lestrange was stepping across this stream when something clutched the side of his coat. It was as if a tiny hand had been put out to draw him back. It was only a thornbranch, a green tendril armed with thorns an inch long curved like the claws of a cat.
He disentangled it and passed on, reaching the valley where the great stone blocks lay strewn about and where the idol of many centuries ago lay amidst the ferns; the thing that had once been a god, omnipotent in the mirula of a people long vantshed.
Here. to rest himself, he sat down on a boulder and. leaning forward with his elbows on his knee's and his chin in the cup of his hands, fell into a reverie.
The name he had given to this island came back to him as he sat there surrounded by those ruins, perhaps two thousand years old,
“The Garden of God.”
An hour later, when Lestrange was seated by the house door reading a book, Dick, who had given up imitation fish-spearing and had fetched some toys from his cache, took his place on the sward near by.
Lestrange, who had taken more notice of the child in the last few days, watched him for a bit and then relapsed into his book.
Dick was busy for a while and the dink of oyster shells and bits of coral kept the reader aware of the fact. Then he ceased play and Lestrange, looking up again from his book, saw before him, seated on the sward. Emmeline.
THE child, having lost interest in its play, was seated with hands folded gazing away across the lagoon, gazing wide-pupilled beyond the world, just as Emmeline had often sat, caught away suddenly into day dream-land. The folded hands were the hands of Emmeline, and the attitude of the body, and, just in that moment, the expression of the face was as if the shade of little Emmeline's sweet soul had reappeared vaguely braving the glances of the sun.
This was no illusion, the likeness was there, evanescent, independent of feature, yet distinct.
Then, as Lestrange gazed on this wonder which was yet so commonplace, it passed away. Kearney broke from the trees on the opposite side carrying a bunch of bananas he had been to fetch, and Emmeline, sighting him, vanished—turned, a3 if touched by a magic wand, into Dick, who went running towards the sailor across the sward.
JN THE days that followed, watching closely now, he saw that not only had heredity given the child the attributes of the mother, but of the father. Perhaps to the absolute isolation of the parents from the world was due this more than ordinary duplicity and simplicity of mind-structure in the child; he could not tell, but the fact was there. Racing about like a dog, following Kearney, imitating him in the things he did, the child was the Dick of long ago, different somewhat in face, but Dick to the life; tired of play or seized with a fit of daydreaming, Emmeline would peep forth—even in play, sometimes, Lestrange would notice the characteristics of the mother in the child’s love for coloured things, flowers, bits of coral and bright shells, and in the careful way the toy3 would be collected and hidden.
Sometimes so vivid was the impression that he could have thrown out his arm3 and cried “Emmeline,” only that he knew Emmeline would know him not.
One night the strange thought came to him. “Do children really care? Did Dick and Emmeline long ago love me? Have I been all these years breaking my heart for the loss of two beings who, caring for me after their way, had no enduring love, were incapable of enduring love—being children?”
Lestrange, casting his mind years back and with his eyes made clear by this new revelation, tried to remember
any one instance thatwould show him Dick or Emmeline’s special love for him—he could not.
“I"')ICK,” cried Kearney, “kim along, aisy! That’s no ' way to be gettin’ into a boat. Now set steady and give over handlin’ them spears.”
The tide was on the ebb, and he was going over to the reef to hunt in the rock-pools.
Since the revelation that had come to Lestrange six months and more had passed, making over twelve months since the Raratonça sailed, and with the passing of the months the child had grown.
He was now perhaps three and a half years of age, yet he was big as a civilized child of five, the germ of a man full of vigour and daring, restless, a thing actuated entirely by the moment, except when now and then a broody fit would take him.
Kearney had made him a little kilt of grass such as he had seen worn by the natives of Nauru, and Dick in his kilt sat now in the stern sheets watching every movement of the man as he cast off from the bank.
They had only one boat now, for a little while ago the old dinghy of the Northumberland had given up the ghost, opening her seams, which they had no means of caulking, and filling with lagoon water.
It was nine o’clock in the morning, and when they reached the reef and tied up, the sea was half out and the pools showed, flashing like shields in the morning sun.
To-day, however, Kearney seemed to have little interest in the business of the reef. He was bothered. Lestrange had been going very much to pieces of late, physically more than mentally. His heart was troubling him. Sometimes he would be all right and sometimes he would have to sit down to rest after a little exertion. He had “gone baggy” under the eyes and wasn’t himself at all. The fact that the schooner was getting long overdue did not help matters.
About eleven o’clock they turned back. Lestrange was nowhere to be seen, but he often went wandering in the
woods, and Kearney, having put the spears aside, set to work preparing the midday meal.
When it was ready and the fish cooked to a turn. Lestrange had not yet come back. However, he was sometimes late and the child was hungry, so they set to, the sailor grumbling to himself like a housewife whose cooking has been slighted.
“Wonder where he can have got to?” said Kearney to himself. “Tomfoolin’ about in them woods.” After the meal he sat down with his back to a tree and lit a pipe. The pipe finished, he lay on his back with his hands behind his head looking up at the leaves moving gently in the wind. Next moment he was asleep.
He slept several hours, and when he awoke Lestrange had not yet come back. He was nowhere to be seen, and Kearney, now seriously alarmed, after a glance into the house, stood looking about him, now towards the lagoon, now towards the woods. Then seeing Dick, who had roused from sleep and was playing about, he caught the child by the hand and made towards the trees.
IT WAS three weeks or so after the vanishing of Lestrange. Kearney, busy over something near the house, suddenly looking up, caught sight of Dick.
He had got into the dinghy, untied her, and pushed out with the boat-hook ; that the tide was on the ebb didn’t matter to Dick.
Hanging over the stern and pretending to fish, Kearney’s voice had aroused him and he stood, now balancing himself and considering the situation created by his own act.
A little over three and a half years of age, he was as strong and big as a much older child, but he was neither big nor strong enough to man the sculls, and the dinghy was drifting towards the cape of wild coconuts beyond which lay the lagoon stretch reaching to the break and the sea. Then, attending to Kearney’s directions, he got a scull over on the port side, got it into the cup of the rowlock, and, still standing up, tried to pull, making a terrible mess of the business.
“God’s truth!” cried Kearney, “you’ve done it now— pull it in! That ain’t no good, you’re getting her farther out.” He came running along the bank to the little cape, hoping the boat would drift close enough for him to catch it by the gunnel. He couldn’t swim.
Dick had pulled the scull in and was standing, showing no sign of fear, as the dinghy, which had twisted sideways a bit owing to his efforts with the scull, altered its position and came along, bow on, nearing the cape now, but at least a yard too far away to be seized. x
“Boat-huk!” cried Kearney; “stick out the boat-huk. Lord alive, look slippy!”
Before the words were spoken Dick had grasped the idea. He seized the boat-hook, raised it aloft wdth a mighty effort, and, as the dinghy closed with the cape, let the end drop into the hands of the sailor.
Kearney drew the boat to the bank. Then getting into the little craft, he took the sculls and rowred back.
He neither scolded nor shook the child as another might have done. Dick had acted so sensibly and so pluckily that the sailor had no heart to “be harsh wdth him,” but the incident had a profound effect upon the mind of Kearney and the future of Dick.
THE question “what wrould have happened to the little devil if he’d gone drifting off?” suggested another question to the mind of the sailor. The question w;hat would happen to the child if he, Kearney, were drifted off in the dinghy, or if he went wrest suddenly, like Lestrange.
That evening, an hour or so before sunset, he took the child out in the boat.
“Now,” said Kearney, “I’m goin’ to teach you how to scull if you ever get adrift again.”
He drew in the sculls and then put one over the stern, resting it in the notch in the transom, and began to instruct his pupil how to scull a boat with a single oar.
Dick watched attentively, and then the sailor, with one hand on the oar, let his pupil grasp it to show him how it was done. The whole business was hopeless, for the child had neither the height nor strength forthe work, though he had the spirit. But Kearney was not the man to cast cold water on a pupil. “That’s grand,” said he. “Couldn’t be doin’it better meself—that’s the way we do it--”
“Lemme—lemme,” cried Dick, trying to push the other aside and get the whole business in his own hands and nearly losing the scull when he did.
“Aye,” said Kearney recovering it, “I’ll let you when you’re a bit bigger. There now, let go of it, and maybe I’ll make you a little one to-morrow you can get a proper grip of. Now get forward and play with the boat-huk— that’s more your size.”
The feature that was beginning to strike out individually in the child was his mouth. Dick was a nose-breather, and only opened his mouth to eat and sometimes to talk in two-or-three word sentences. You could chase him round the sward and his way of breathing would be just the same, and, like the Red Indians, when he laughed he rarely opened his lips. It was a beautiful mouth, firm, well-curved, and showing the dawn of decision upon it.
ONE day Kearney determined on an expedition over to the eastern side of the island in search of bananas. He could have gone in the dinghy or have taken his way along the lagoon bank, but at the last moment he decided to make a short cut through the woods, taking Dick along with him.
They started, taking their way through the trees on the side of the sward opposite to the house, Kearney leading. The trees were not dense, and the wind from the sea stirred their fronds and branches, bringing with it the murmur of the reef.
Then catne some giant trees with trunks buttressed like the matamata; they stood in two rows, making an alley acros, which swung cables of Hantasses powdered here and there with the star-like blossoms of some lesser vine, and here and there orchids like vast butterflies and birds in arrested flight.
The trees like the pillars of a cathedral, the twilight and the incense-like odours of tropical flowers gave to this place a solemnity and character all its own. Lestrange in his wood wanderings, had found it out, and had often come here to meditate and dream and sometimes forget, for here the great trees cast their presence as well as their shadow on a man’s soul. Half way down this alley Kearney halted.
A breath of wind came stealing towards him, stirring the tendrils of the Hantasse and bearing with it suddenly an appalling stench from the flower-decked gloom ahead.
He stood just as though a bar had been placed across his path; then, taking the child by the hand, he turned and retraced his path to the house.
^TANDING on the summit of ^ Palm Tree Island and gazing sou’west one saw above the horizon line something that was not land. The sky just there altered in color as though dimmed by a finger-print and sometimes, just before sunset, this mysterious spot in the sky took on a vague glow.
Any old South Sea man would have known at once that this spot was the mirror blaze from a great lagoon reflected in the sky. Kearney recognized the fact at once when he saw it. “There’s a big low island somewheres down there,” had been his verdict, and he was right.
Karolin was the name of this atoll island; even the whalemen called it by its native name instead of dubbing it with some outlandish term of their own, after their custom with islands not on the chart. But they never entered the lagoon. The place had a bad name, wood and water being scarce and the natives untrustable.
The lagoon was forty miles in circumference, and the containing reef nowhere higher than six feet;
*Se« "The BSue Lagoon.**
standing on the reef you could not see the opposite shore, except when mirage lifted it showing across the great pond brimming with light, a line dotted with palm clumps. There was no water source on Karolin, only ponds cut in the coral and filled by the rains; no taro, only puraka; no bread-fruit; coconuts, puraka, pandranas fruit, and fish were the main support of the inhabitants, and though Palm Tree, with all its vegetation, lay within reach, they never went there for food.
The fishing canoes, in the bad seasons when fish were poisonous at Karolin, would push out with the northward running current, and sometimes even skirt the reef of the northern island, but they never landed, and for three reasons. The high island with its dense trees and narrow lagoon was an abomination to the minds of the atoll-bred people. In the remote past for some reason they had emigrated en masse, but had returned in less than three months broken in spirit and yearning for the great spaces and the sun blaze of the lagoon. Again, years ago there had been a tribal war, and the remnants of the defeated tribe had made north and had been pursued and killed on the beach of Palm Tree to a man* and their ghosts were supposed still to haunt the beach. Lastly, Palm Tree, though invisible from Karolin by direct vision, was sometimes at long intervals raised by the witchery of mirage, showing as a picture in the sky, and an island that could raise itself like this was a place to be avoided. Katafa had only seen this vision twice, though she was fourteen years of age.
' I 'WELVE years ago a ship had come into the lagoon of A Karolin, a Spanish ship, the Pablo Poirez, Spanish owned and out of Valparaiso. Valores was the captain’s name, and he had his wife and little daughter on board, a child two years old, named Chita.
He came in for water. There had been a drought, and the wells of Karolin were low, and Le Juan, the sorceress
and rain expert, in a temper, and Uta Matu, the chief man of the northern tribe, spoiling for a fight.
In the middle of all this the Spaniards came on shore with their w’ater-barrels and were met by Le Juan and Uta Matu, who barred the w7ay to the w7ells, only to be pushed aside by Valores and his men. In a moment the beach -was in a turmoil, daggers and sharks’ teeth spears were whipped from beneath mats and from clefts in the rock; attacked on all sides and with the fury of a typhoon, the Spaniards fell butchered like sheep, slaughtered to a man.
Then the canoes put out for the ship, Uta Matu boarding her to starboard and his son Laminai to port. There were six Spaniards on board. They had knocked the shackle off the anchor £hain and were trying to handle the sails, forgetting that the tidewas flooding and that the wind was coming from the break—working like maniacs and falling like cattle before the spear men. The wife of Valores fell defending her child. Stricken on the back with a coral-headed club, she fell with it in her arms, coving it so that they had to turn her over to tear it from her.
Now the ship, free of the anchor, had been drifting -with the flood and wind, and just as Laminai was holding the child aloft before dashing it on the deck, the keel took a submerged reef that rose from the lagoon floor just there, the shock made him slip on the blood-soaked deck, and, as he fell, Uta caught the child.
His blood-lust was satiated and the gods had spoken, at least so it seemed to Uta Matu, and wThen Laminai got on his feet again and tried to seize his prey he received a clip on the side of the head from the old man’s right fist, strong to save as to kill.
DUT the chief had reckoned wdthout Le Juan. The sight of the rescued Chita filled the priestess of Nanawa with the most dismal forebodings. It was a girl child, belonging to the murdered papalagi, whose spirits through it would surely find revenge. Le Juan, despite her devotion to sorcery, or maybe because of it, was a very clever women; she foresaw in the growing-up and mating of this alien with some young man of the tribe, danger to the people of Karolin. It might be that the ghosts of the murdered ones would work through her and the children she bore; Le Juan could not tell, she only knew that there was danger in the thing, and that night, squatting in Uta Matu’s house whilst the rest of the tribe lay about on the beach drunk with carnage and kava, she so worked on the mind of the chief that he w7as about to assent to the strangling of Chita when, of a sudden a noise filled the air, first a w'hisper, then a murmur, then a roar—the rain—the long-deferred rain, beating the lagoon to foam and washing the coral free of blood stains.
“How now about the ill luck?” asked Uta Matu. “The child is lucky, it has brought us rain. Take her and do what you will w7ith her, put spells upon her or w’hat you like, but if you injure one hair of her head I will have you choked with a w7edge of raw7 puraka and I will cast thy body to the sharks, Le Juan.” “As you please,” said the old woman. “I will do what I can.”
She christened Chita, Katafa, or the Frigate Bird, a creature associated with w7anderings and great distances, and then gradually and year by year she isolated Katafa from the tribe, absolutely and in all but speech.
\TOW, how can you isolate a per* son from their fellows so that w7hilst living, talking, eating, and moving amongst them they are as much apart as though ringed round w7ith a barrier of steel? It seems impossible, but it was not impossible to Le Juan. She imposed upon Chita the rarest of all the forms of taboo—Taminan. There were men and women on Karolin tabooed from touching the skin of a shark, from eating certain forms of shell fish, and so forth and so on, but the terrible taboo of Taminan debarred its victims from touching any human creature or being touched.
From her earliest infancy the mind of the Spanish child had been
worked upon by Le Juan until the taboo had taken a firm hold and become part and parcel of her brain processes and evasion an instantaneous reflex act. You might suddenly have put out your hand to grasp or touch Katafa—you would have touched nothing but air; like an expert fencer, she would have evaded you if only by the twentieth part of an inch. To understand the tremendous grasp of this thing upon the mind, it is enough to say that had »he wished you to touch her, desired with all her heart that you should touch her, wish or desire would have been fruitless before the impassable barrier erected by the subliminal mind.
On no grown person could the taboo of Taminan be
imposed—only on the plastic mind of childhood could it obtain its grip •trong as hypnotism and lasting till death.
At six years of age Le Juan’s work was accomplished and Katafa was immune, isolated for ever from her kind. The work had been helped by the fact that: every creature on Karolin had avoided her, but on the day when Le Juan proclaimed her free she was taken into the tribe, men. women, and children no longer held apart, and she mixed with them, played with them,fished with them, talked with them, a gh»t in everything but speech.
ONE evening some eight years later, just before sunset, Katafa was standing on the beach waiting for Taiofa, the son of Laminai.
They were going out to fish for palu beyond the reef.
Straight as a dart, naked but for a girdle of dracaena leaves, she stood, her eyes sweeping the lagoon water where the gulls were fishing.
Near by some native girls were helping to unload a canoe that had come over from the southern beach, and as they talked and laughed over the work, flat-nosed and plain, muscular and full of the joy of life, they formed the strangest contrast to the Spanish girl in the dawn of her beauty. Slim, graceful as a young palm tree, Katafa stood •eparate from the others in spirit as in body.
One might have said of her that here was a living, breathing human being who yet was divorced from humanity; every movement of her body, her glance, her laughter,
»poke of a spirit irresponsible, thoughtless, light as the spirit of a bird. She who touched nothing but the food she ate. the ground she trod on and the water she swam in, who had never gTasped a living thing since the tragedy of the Spanish ship so long ago, had seemingly failed to find the hold upon life given to the least of the Kanaka girls amongst whom she had grown up, creatures almost animal yet human in affection and tied together by the common bonds of joy and hope and fear. One of the strangest effects of the terrible law under which Katafa lived was her insensibility to fear.
“0 he, Katafa!”
'^'EITHER Katafa nor her companion spoke, or only a word now and then; steering an outriggered canoe requires attention, for, if the outrigger dips too deep, there may be disaster. As for Taiofa, he was busy overhauling the tackle, the anchor, which was simply a chipped lump of coral, and the mooring rope.
The Spanish ship had been a blessing to Karolin; before
It was Taiofa, sixteen years of age and strong as a grown man: he was carrying a big basket containing food and several young drinking coconuts, the lines and bait. The canoe that was to take them lay on the beach, the water washing its stem, and between them they put off, Taiofa running up the sail to catch the favouring westerly wind. Katafa steered with a paddle; the tide was running out and they cleared the break just as the setting sun touched the far-off invisible western reef. '
Out here they met the swell, and with the wind blowing up against the night and the last of the sunset on the sail, they steered for the fishing bank and the twrenty-fathom water that lay three miles to the north-east.
burning and scuttling, the natives had looted her; the rope Taiofa was handling had been made from part of her running rigging unwoven and re-twisted, the fishinghooks beaten out of some of her metal. Having placed everything in order he crouched, brooding, his eyes fixecj on the last tinge of sunset, and then raised to the outjetting stars.
And now, as though assured of their position by chart, compass, and sounding lead, the sail was brailed and the anchor dropped, the canoe riding to it bow to swell.
Whilst the boy fished, the girl watched, a heavy maul beside her for the stunning of the palu when caught. An hour passed, during which the fisherman hauled in a few
small Schnapper, whilst the girl, perched now on the pole of the outrigger, watched the seas go by flowing up out of the night ahead and passing in long rhythmical columns of swell, star-shot and rippling on the anchor rope.
“The palu are not,” said Taiofa, “but—who knows?— they may come before dawn.”
“Better then than not at all,” said the girl; “but it is not the palu; 0 he, Taiofa, we should have waited for a bigger moon.”
HOURS passed and then at last came the reward, the line ran out and the boy, calling to the girl to steady the canoe, hauled whilst the great fish fought, now darting ahead till the bow overran the anchor rope, now zigzagging astern. Now they could see it fighting below the surface, and now thrashing the starlit water to foam; it was nearly alongside, and Taiofa was shouting to his companion to get ready to strike, when of a sudden the night went black, and the squall was on them.
They had not noticed it coming up from the south; the smash of the rain and the rush of the wind took them like the stroke of a hand.
Taiofa, dropping the line which ran out, flung his weight to the outrigger side, whilst the girl, instinctively and at once, dropped the maul and sprang aft to the steering paddle. Her thought was to keep the canoe head to sea, but the anchor rope had parted and the canoe, instead of broaching-to, was running in some mysterious manner before the squall stern on to the leaping swell. t
It was the palu. The end of the line was tied to the bow, and the great fish driving north with the current,, was towing them.
Then with a last roaring cataract of rain the squall passed and the stars appeared, showing the tossing sea and Taiofa gone! He had been on the forward outrigger pole and the sea had taken him, leaving neither trace nor sound. The canoe had possibly overrun him, she did not know, nor did she care—Taiofa was less to her than an animal, and the devouring sea was feeling for her to devour her.
Something hit her like the stroke of a whip. It was the sheet of the mat sail that had broken loose. She seized it, fastened it, and then, as the sail filled before the wind, steered. The palu, feeling the slackening of the line, made a dash at right angles to their course; she saw the line tauten out to starboard, and countered with the paddle before the bow could be dragged round; then the line went slack, it had either broken or the fish had unhooked.
Then she steered, the big waves following her, and the wind, that had fallen to a breeze, filling the sail. To turn was impossible in that sea and, even with the bow to the south, she could never have made Karo in against the wind with a single paddle and that clumsy sail.
In the hands óf the God who sends the seeds of the thistle adrift on the wind, fearless, and grasping the paddle, she steered with only one object—to keep the little craft from broaching-to.
AT DAWN the wind had sunk to T*a mild breeze, and the swell had lost its steepness. As the great blaze came in the east, and the brow of the sun shattered the horizon, Katafa reached for the basket of food tied to the after-pole of the Outrigger and opened it. As she ate her eyes roamed far and wide from sea-line to sea-line—nothing! Karolin had vanished far from sight and Palm Tree Island was too far off to show—nothing but the vales and hills of the marching swell, the following wind and the sun now breaking from the sea that seemed to cling to him.
To beat back against the wind and the current was impossible to her, it was impossible even to turn the canoe with a single paddle, and in that swell—there was nothing to do but steer.
Far to the westward lay the Paumotus, with their reefs and races andlutterly unaccountable currents; behind, Karolin and the vacant sea stretching to the Gambiers; to the east, the South American coast, a thousand miles and more away; to the north, Palm Tree, and the vacant sea stretching to the Marquesas—and all around silence. This new strange thing for which she had no name almost daunted her. She had lived with the eternal sound of the reef in her ears, it had been part of her world like the ground beneath hér feet, and now that it was withdrawn she was at a loss; the occasional flap of the sail, the whisper and chuckle of the bow wash, the fizz of the foam as the outrigger broke the surface of the swell, all these sounds came to her strange against the silence.. . .
Standing up in the last blaze of the sunset, she strained her eyes—nothing. Once she thought that she could see a point breaking the far horizon, land or gull’s wing, she could not be sure. Then with the dark the wind sank to a dead calm, and the swell to a gentle heave of the sea, and, crouching in the bottom of the canoe, Katafa, her head resting against the outrigger pole, closed her eyes.
She awoke at dawn with the whole eastern sky flushed
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like the petal of a vast rose on which the day star glittered like a point of dew. A faint breathing of wind from the north brought a whisper with it, the whisper of the reef, and for a second, just as she opened her eyes, the picture of Karolin came before her. Had she drifted back? Rising and grasping the mast she turned her face to the wind, and there, far away still, but breathing at her with the perfumed breath of the land wind, lay the form she had seen in mirage as a dreamer sees his fate.
THAT morning, three hours after sunup and half an hour after breakfast, Fate and Mr. Kearney had a difference of opinion.
The bananas were ripe on the eastern side of the island and he had arranged in his mind to go and fetch a bunch, taking the quickest way, that is to say, right over the'hill-top instead of round by the lagoon edge; but he was lazy and disposed to put the business off to a more convenient time. He would have made Dick row him round in the dinghy only that Dick wanted the boat for purposes of his own beyond on the reef.
Eleven years of island life had altered Kearney almost as much as they had altered Dick. Always on the look-out for a ship during the first three years, he would not have left the island to-day, unless shifted with a derrick. He had grown into the life, grown lazy and stout and grizzled—and moral. A most extraordinary type of beachcomber. The child and the island, the sun and the easy way of life had all conspired in this work upon him. He had no hankerings now after bar-rooms; without tobacco for years, he had taken to chewing gum, finding plenty of it in the woods, and he had devised
several innocent and non-laborious amusements for himself and the child, amongst others, shipbuilding. The very first act of Kearney when they had landed on the island had been the cutting of a little boat for Dick from a bit of wood. He could do anything with a knife, and one day, some six years ago, when time was hanging heavy, the saving idea came to him of constructing a model of the lost Raratonga. It took him nearly eight months to accomplish, but it was a beauty when finished, with sails of silk made from an old shirt of Lestrange’s and a leaden keel constructed from the lead wrappings of a teachest which he managed to melt down.
They took it over and sailed it on the reef pool, and next day he set to work on another, a frigate this time. Four ships altogether had left the stocks of the Kearney-Dick combination, and meanwhile three real ships had touched the island, two whalers and a sandalwood schooner. The whalers Kearney had carefully avoided, the sandalwood schooner had come up in the arms of a hurricane, smashed herself to pieces on the reef, drowned every soul on board of her, and left the coral littered with trade goods, bolts of cloth enough to clothe a village, boxes of beads, cheap looking-glasses, dud Barlow knives—everything but tobacco.
HAVING contemplated the lagoon, the reef, and the moving figure of Dick for a while, Kearney suddenly shifted his position, rose, stretched himself, and, fetching a case knife from the shelf in the house, turned towards the trees. Passing through the woods he struck uphill till he reached the summit, where he paused for a moment to rest, a figure not unlike that of Robinson Crusoe, standing with his hand on the great summit rock and gazing far and wide across the ocean.
Then he shaded his eyes. Far off on the dead calm sea a canoe was drifting, two miles away it might have been to the south, and perhaps half a mile to the east. The land wind had died off completely and the tiny sail hung without a stir. He could not tell at that distance whether it had any occupants. Brown, like a withered leaf on the water, it lay drifting with the current that would take it past the island just as it had taken the dinghy with the lost children of Lestrange.
Kearney gazed for a full minute, then, turning, he came running downhill and back through the trees to the lagoon edge. Dick was still in view. Kearney hailed him, waving his arms, and the boy, understanding that he was wanted, left the business he was on, ran to the dinghy and, untying her, pushed across.
Dick was worth looking at as he came alongside, standing up in the dinghy, the boat-hook in his hands. Nearly fourteen, yet tall and big as a boy of fifteen or more, naked but for a kilt of leaves, with the forthright gaze of an eagle and a face where decision met daring, a philosopher, looking at him, might have said: “Here is the making of the world’s finest man ; here is the perfect human being, neither savage nor civilized, swift as a panther, graceful as a tree, yet endowed with mind, decision, and character.”
Kearney saw only the red-headed boy whom he had watched growing up and who had been a handful in his way ever since he had been big enough to row the dinghy.
“There’s.a boat beyond the reef,” cried Kearney, stepping into the dinghy. “Now get aft with you and give me the sculls. I’m go’n to try’n’ fetch it in.”
“A boat where y’ say?” asked the boy.
“Out beyond the reef,” replied the other, pushing off; “ship the tiller an’, keep us close to the bank. I’ve not time for talkin’.”
Dick shipped the tiller and steered whilst the other put all his. strength into his stroke. They passed the little cape, nearly brushing the trees, and then down the long arm of the lagoon stretching to the east. It was slack tide, just before the flood, and the water was calm at the break; they shot through, taking the heave of the glassy sWell, and there, drifted now a quarter of' a mile to the north, was the canoe, the sail still hanging without a stir.
“There’s someun in her!” cried Dick.
KEARNEY took a glance over his shoulder and saw the figure of a girl. She was standing, holding on to the mast and looking towards them, a form graceful as the new moon, naked but for her girdle of dracaena leaves and with her free hand sheltering her eyes against the sun.
As they drew closer her voice came across the water clear as a bell and hailing them in some unknown language.
“It’s a girl!” cried Kearney.
“What’s a girl?” asked Dick, so filled with excitement over this new find that he was forgetting to steer.
“It’s a female—mind your steerin’— you’re a mile to starboard—there, let it be and I’ll manage meself.”
The girl, as they drew close, ran forward and seized the anchor rope; it had parted a good way from its fastening and there was some four fathoms of it left. She stood with it coiled in her hand, and as the dinghy approached she sent the coil flying towards them, straight and sure. Then, as Kearney caught it, she darted aft and seized the steering paddle, crying out in answer to the sailor’s questions in the same strange-bell-like voice, but in a tongue dark to her saviours as Hebrew.
“Kanaka,” said Kearney, “but she knows her business. Dick, leave that boát-huk down, we aren’t boardin’ her, we’ll tow her in. Catch hold of the rope.” He got the sculls in, fastened the rope end to the after thwart, and then started to work towing the canoe’s head round.
THOUGH Dick had asked Kearney what a girl was, it was the word he was inquiring about, not the thing. The stupid old story of the boy who saw girls for the , first time at a fair, was told that they were ducks, and then expressed his desire for a duck, has no foundation in psychology. Life is cleverer than that. Dick saw in Katafa a young creature something like himself; descended from a thousand generations of people who knew all about girls, his subconscious mind accepted Katafa’s
structural differences without question; she was far less strange to him than the canoe. His ancestors had never seen a South Sea canoe. This strange, savage, mosquito-like structure, with its bindings of coconut sennit and its mat sail, fascinated the boy far more than its occupant; to him, truly, it was like nothing earthly; the outrigger alone was a mystery, and the whole thing a joy, a joy delightfully tinged with uneasiness, for the absolutely new is disturbing to the soul of man or beast.
As he rowed Kearney noticed that the girl was chewing something in the way of food, and once he saw her bend and take up a drinking coconut and put it to her mouth. A fact that eased his mind, bothered by the idea that she might be starving. The tide was beginning to flood. It swept them through the break, and as the dinghy turned up the right .arm of the lagoon, the tow rope now tautening, now smacking the water, it was the girl’s turn to be astonished. The tall trees seen from outside the reef had seemed monstrous to her eyes, accustomed only to the flat circle of the atoll, but here, inside the reef, the density of the foliage, the unknown plants, the unknown smells, the trees sweeping up to heaven, almost terrified her, brave though she was. The only familiar and comforting thing was the reef and its voice—but those trees in their hundreds and thousands, climbing on each other’s shoulders!
Steering with her paddle she kept the canoe in line with the dinghy, the wild coconut almost brushing her as they turned the little cape; then, as they came alongside the bank, she sprang out and stbod, her arms crossed and a hand on each shoulder, watching, whilst the others landed and Kearney tied the boats up.
“Now, then, Kanaka girl,” said Kearney as he rose from this business and approached her, followed cautiously by the boy. “What’s yer name? Jim,” pointing to his breast with his thumb. “I’m Jim— Jim. What’s yourn, eh?”
She understood at once. '
“Katafa,” came the reply, then swift as a rippling stream, “Te tataga Karoli po uli agotoimoana—Katafa.”
“Ain’t no use,” replied Kearney. “Tie a clove hitch in it and we’ll call you Jinny. Want some food? God bless my soul, where’s the use in talkin’ to her. Here, you, Dick, come along an’ get the fire agoin’. Come along, Kanaka girl.” He clapped her on the shoulder—made to do so, but his hand touched nothing but empty air.
“Well, I’m damned,” said Kearney. He had got the shock of his life. It was not the fact that she had evaded him, but the manner of the evasion. His hand had missed the shoulder, driven it away, seemingly, as wind moves a curtain, yet she had scarcely moved and her face and attitude had not altered in the least. She seemed quite unconscious of what had happened, and the man who has ever tried to touch a T§minanite will know exactly the feeling of Kearney as he turned to make the fire, followed by Dick.
KATAFA drew closer, then, at a certain distance, she squatted down and watched them at work. She had po fear of men or ghosts. Human beings and ghosts were' things equally remote to Katafa, who could touch or be touched by neither.
Infected by Le Juan and filled with wild fancies, or maybe endowed with psychic powers, she had seen the “men who leave no footprints” walking in the sun blaze of Karolin. There was a sandy cove eight or nine miles from the break, and here with Taiofa she had watched them walking like people astray and bewildered.
She had flung stones through them, Taiofa wondering and seeing nothing. At night, had you possessed the eyes of the Spanish girl, you would have seen in the dark of the moon, and at a certain hour, a man swimming in the starlight from the old anchorage of the Pablo Poirez towards the break, leaving a trail in the starlight, always at the same hour and always in the same direction; and sometimes on these nights fires would spring up on the reef where it trended to the west, lit by no man’s hand, for no man was there.
But Palm Tree to her eyes seemed free of anything like this, though full of strange things enough. Amongst the gifts presented by the wreck were three or four tin cases of Swedish matches, enough to last for years. Kearney had
discarded the tinder-box and he was lighting the fire with a box of matches, a fact more interesting than bonnets to Katafa as she squatted watching his every movement.
Then when the food was ready and Dick had fetched some water from the little spring at the back of the yam patch, Kearney called to the “Kanaka girl” to pull in her chair.
She came within a couple of yards, but would come no farther, squatting on her heels in an attitude that gave her freedom to spring away at a moment’s notice. Kearney stretched over with some food on a plate for her, then he handed a coconut bowl with some water in it. Then he began on his own meal. He seemed put out.
“She ain’t right,” said Mr. Kearney, as though communing with himself.
“What ain’t right, Jim?” asked the boy, a fish in his fingers. “Why ain’t she right, Jim? What’s the matter she can’t talk?”
THE only things he had ever heard _ Kearney address as “she” were the ships they made. Katafa had in someway taken in his mind a tinge from those delightful ships. She was a “she.” The canoe helped—it was hers. Now that the canoe was half out of sight, hidden by the bank, and Katafa sitting there close to him, she fascinated him. His passionate love of the sea, of the dinghy, of the little ships, of everything connected with the water, all lent colour to this strange new being who had come up out of the sea in that thing. It was almost as if she had a keel on her. He would have loved to make friends, but he was too shy as yet, and she couldn’t talk so that he could understand.
He set his teeth in the fish.
“Lord, I dunno,” said Kearney, his recent experience hot in his mind, yet unable to explain it in speech. “She ain’t like other folk. There, don’t be askin’ questions, but get on with your dinner. Maybe it’s just she’s a Kanaka.”
“What’s a Kanaka, Jim?”
“You get on with your dinner and don’t be askin’ questions.”
The sociable meal proceeded, Katafa “tuckin’ into the food” with a good appetite, but with an eye ever on Kearney. Kearney, by his attempt to clap her on the shoulder, had laid the foundation of a lot of trouble for himself. He had raised against him the something that Le Juan had bred in the subconscious mind of the girl.
No man, woman, or child on Karolin had ever tried to touch her; she was taboo to them as they to her; the art of avoidance, which was as natural and unconscious to her as the art of walking, had always been exercised against an accidental touch. Kearney had done what no one else had ever done, tried to touch her.
But if you think she reasoned this out in her mind, you would be far from the truth. Whatever Le Juan’s means of tuition may have been—a hot iron was one of them—they had left all but no mark on the conscious mind of the grown girl; otherwise her life would have been as impossible as the life of a person who has to think over each step he takes, each movement of the body, and each respiration he makes. Le Juan had made the taboo not a direction to be obeyed, but a law of being, living like a watch-dog in the dark chambers of the girl’s mind—a watch-dog baring its teeth at Kearney.
Katafa had evaded the friendly blow of Kearney just as on Karolin she had often evaded the touch of hands in the pulling in of a fishing net, instantaneously and all but unconsciously, but the difference was vast. Kearney had placed himself among a new order of beings by his act. His clothes helped. She had never seen anyone in trousers and shirt before. Decidedly this strange, bearded man required watching.
Dick was different; for all his red head and straight nose and strange-coloured eyes, he might have been a boy of Karolin.
SHE finished her food. Kearney had given her a plate, one of the few unbroken of those Stanistreet had left behind for them. It had flowers painted on it, and the thing intrigued her vastly. It seemed to her a new sort of shell, and when the sailor rose, replete and drowsy, and went off for his siesta in a comfortable spot amidst the trees, Dick, who had received instructions to “clear up them things an’ give’s a call if she tries to meddle with the boat,” saw Katafa fur-
tively trying to scratch one of the flowers off the plate.
“They’re painted on,” said Dick, suddenly losing his shyness. “You can’t get them things off.” Finding his voice gave him courage, and getting on his legs, he ran off to the house, returning in a minute with one of the ships, a frigate. Kearney had made rests for each one to stand on, and he carried the frigate, rest and all, and placed it close by her on the ground.
“Ain’t like yours,” said Dick, reclining beside it and handling the tiny spars so that she might see how they swung. “It’s a fridgit.” •» ’
The girl, appealed to in the language of ships and sitting on her heels, regarded the little vessel with interest. In Karolin lagoon, two miles beyond the break and in ten fathom water, lay the hull of a sunk ship that the Kanakas had burnt. She had knocked a hole in herself by drifting on a reef, and the flames had only time to bring the masts down before she sank, and there she lay on an even keel, clear to be seen in the crystal water, and with the fish playing around her stern post.
The Karolin boys called her the big canoe of the papalagi. Katafa knew nothing of her history, or of its connection with herself, but the shape was the same as the shape of the “fridgit,” only the masts were wanting.
“Look!” said Dick, showing how the yards were swung. “She’s square-sailed, albut the mizzen, same’s your boat. You could reef ’em up only there ain’t any reef points; she’s too small, Jim says. This is the rudder an’ tiller. You ain’t got no rudder to yours.” He looked up at her; from her face and the interest in it, she seemed to understand. She leaned forward and moved the tiny tiller with her finger-tip; a wheel was beyond Kearney’s art, and the steering gear of Sir Cloudesley Shovel’s ships had to suffice. Then she leaned farther forward and blew hard at the tiny main-topsail, slinging the yard round.
“Matagi,” cried she, “O he amorai— Matagi.”
“That’s the way it goes,” cried Dick, pleased to find her so apt and talking just as though she were able to understand every word, “and when you’re sailin’ close to the wind you haul it that way. That square rig—wait a minit.”
He rushed off to the house and returned with the schooner, dumping it before her.
Katafa looked at the model of the Raratonga with her head slightly on one side; she seemed admiring it. Dick, watching her, felt pleased. Many a grownup English person, able to talk, would have failed in this business, or blundered in their appreciation of these important things, but Katafa was one of the craft, seemed so, anyway, and Dick, old friends with her now, and free and wasy as though she were Kearney, proceeded to demonstrate the action of the throat and peak halyards in raising the gaff, and topping lifts in supporting the boom, and how the head canvas was set. Then, suddenly remembering duty, he ran back to the house with the ships, and set to work to clear away the remains of the food and the three plates. He did not wash the plates, he was too anxious to get busy again with Katafa.
SHE had become all of a sudden the first great event of his life; she could neither speak in ordinary language to him, nor he to her—but she was youth. Though he had lived eleven years with Kearney, and though Kearney had practically taught him to talk, the sailor had never got as close to him as this creature of his own age who had suddenly appeared as if at the lift of a curtain.
The instant Kearney had withdrawn, the spell had begun to work; it might have been weeks before Dick would have shown these treasured ships to a grown person.
As he bustled about, filled with a new energy and interest, Katafa, who had risen to her feet, watched him. Lightminded and irresponsible as the boy, there still lay between her and him an abyss that even youth could not cross— the abyss that had lain between her and the children of Karolin, with whom, yet, she had played, but as a person might play with shadows. All the same, youth could gaze across the abyss, over which, despite everything, the little ships had sailed. These things had fascinated her. She could see more of them in the house, attractive as toys, yet mysterious, as
fetishes—maybe having something to do with the gods of Dick and Kearney.
Dick knew nothing of this. Duty done with, he made another dash for the house, producing no ship this time, but a stick three feet long and a ball made of tiawood.
Kearney had invented a game for him, a sort of cross between baseball and cricket. The trunk of an artu on the grove edge did for wicket, and the run was from this to a bread fruit trunk and back. Kearney, since he had grown lazy, had held off from this game, saying it was ‘ ‘too much of a bother.”
“Catch!” cried Dick, throwing the ball to Katafa. She caught it; he held out his hands, and she flung it back hard and swift and sure. She could throw a stone near a hundred yards and throw it like a man.
He showed her the stick, and tossing the ball back to her, ran to the tree, pointed to it, and then stood with the stick ready to defend it.
She understood at once.
When Kearney came forth from his afternoon rest he found Dick tired out, sitting by the house, and the girl by the lagoon bank, dabbling her feet in the water. It looked almost as though they had quarrelled, but they had not in the least. One of Dick’s moody fits had come on him, as they often did after excitement or strenuous exertion. He was a different creature from the Dick of only a moment ago, and when these fits took him it was always the same: he seemed caught away to another world, and liked to sit by himself.
If ever a mother “came out” in a child, the lost Emmeline came out in Dick during these moods. It was almost as though he had changed sex.
“What have you been doin’ with the stick?” asked Kearney.
“Playin’,” said Dick, waking from his reverie.
Another long instalment in the May 1st. issue.