THE GARDEN OF GOD
H. deVERE STACPOOLE
A Sequel to “The Blue Lagoon"
THE STORY SO FAR:
Dick and Emmeline, son and niece of Arthur Lestrange. Were cast ashore when children on an uninhabited South Sea island.
They grew up together in a wild state, and one day drifted out to sea in a dinghy with their baby boy. Lestrange after years of
searching for them came across them in the dinghy as his steamer was approaching the island. The parents were both dead, but the child was still living.
Dreaming that the parents would some day return to him. he remained at the island with the boy, whom he named Dick, and one of his creW, Jim Kearney. Shortly afterwards Leslrange one day disappeared.
Kearney and Dick continued their island life, and one day, when Dick was fourteen, a girl of Spanish birth drifted in to them on a canoe. This girl had been brought up with the Kanaka tribe of South Sea islanders, who had named her Katafa, and in order to keep her apart from the tribe had imposed upon her a very rigid form of taboo which forbade her touching or being touched by any human being.
On Kearney attempting casually to touch her she eludes him. but this causes her to take an instinctive dislike to him. She. however, becomes very friendly with Dick, who is greatly attracted by her, and he shows her all his little treasures and toys which Kearney has made for him.
.4s the present chapter opens, Jim Kearney, who had been sleeping, comes out to find Dick and Katafa resting at the side of the lagoon after playing together a hall game which Jim had taught Dick.
CHAPTER X A Fire on the Reef
X TE ARNE Y had put shelves in the house to hold the pL ships so that they did not interfere with the floor * space where he slept with Dick.
The shack behind the house where the provisions had been stored still held, though the roof had gone pretty much to pieces, and here the sailor had fixed the sleeping quarters of Katafa.
Blankets had been given to them by the wreck, supplementing those left behind by Stanistreet, and. getting along for sundown. Kearney with three blankets on his arm. two for a bed and one for a quilt, beckoned the girl to follow him.
She stopped short at the entrance to the shack and then took a step backwards, standing and watching him at his work.
Then, when he came out. he pointed to the blankets.
“There ain’t no pilla,” said Kearney, “but you won’t be mindin’ that.
Now then. Kanaka girl, there’s Vou r bun k—
Ain't you Hirin’ the look of it?”
She had drawn back another step.
“In with you,” said Kearney, pointing to the couch.
She shook her head. Ask a fox to enter a trap?
“Well, then, you can just sleep in the trees,’’’said he, and off he went round the house, leaving her to her choice.
Dick, tired out with the day, was in the house and sound asleep, and the sailor, who had a fishing line to overhaul, sat down by the door and set to work on it. As he sat busy with his fingers and reviewing with his mind Kanakas and their unaccountable ways, he saw the girl coming out from the trees. She had fished two of the blankets out of the shack and she was crossing the sward with them towards the canoe that was tied to the bank. She got into the canoe with them and vanished from sight, all but her head, visible in the sunset light above the bank.
Now Kearney had old-fashioned ideas as to how young people should behave towards their elders, and Dick had received many a “clip” from him for disobedience. He was starting to “go after” the girl when he saw two hands go up to her head; she was arranging her hair.
One might have fancied her before a mirror.
This sight checked him. He finished his work, put the line away and retired to the house. During their ten years of residence thé house had almost been destroyed by a big blow from the northwest and Kearney in rebuilding had enlarged it.
THERE was plenty of room for him and Dick and tonight, as he lay there, the four ships on their shelves above him and Dick sound asleep by the wall, he could see through the open doorway a new picture; the mat sail of the canoe still unfurled, and, just distinguishable in the fast rising twilight, the head of the girl above the bank.
Kearney was worried. Living in ease and quietude, one might fancy worry his last visitant, but that was not so; quite small things, things he would never have given a' second thought to on ship-board, had the power to upset him here, and though he would not have changed his mode of life for worlds, a broken fishingline or .a leak in the dinghy would make him grumpy for hours, cursing
his fate and wondering what was going to happen next.
Katafa was worrying him now, she was unlike any Kanaka he had ' ever seen. Where had she come from? Was it from that island he guessed to be lying down south there? And if so, might she not bring others of her kind after her? Then the way she had slipped from under his hand and those eyes of hers which she kept fixed 'on him, she wasn’t right.
He dropped off to sleep with this conviction in his mind and dreamt troublous dreams, waking about two in the morning to wonder what she was doing and whether everything was secure. Then, sleep driven away, he came out into the windless starry night where a six days’ old moon was lolling above the trees.
Away out to sea a red flicker met his gaze. A fire was burning on the reef. Trumpets blowing in the night could not have astonished him more.
He watched for a moment as the flame waxed and waned, now casting a trail of red light on the lagoon water, now dying down only to leap up again. Then he came running to the canoe, the girl was not there and the , dinghy was gone, the paddle was gone from the canoe also, she must have taken it to paddle herself over to the reef, not being able to use the sculls.
THERE was plenty of dried weed and bits of wreckage on the reef to make a fire with, but how had she got a light? He came back to the house and searched for the box of matches on the little shelf outside where it was always put when done with. It was gone.
She must have come “smelling round” when they were asleep, she must have noticed where the matches had been put and treasured up the fact in her dark mind!
“But what in the nation she done it for?” asked Kearney, of himself as he stood scratching bis head. “What’s she up to, anyway?” -
The night made no reply, only the rumble of the reef, now loud, now low, and the mysterious light of the fire, now waxing, now waning, flaring up only to die down again.
He came to the trees on the other side of the sward and watched for an hour till at last the fire died to a spark and the spark vanished.
Then came the sound of the paddle as the dinghy stole like a beetle across the starshot lagoon water and tied up
at the bank. A figure passed along the bank towards the house, she was putting the, match box back, then she came along towards the canoe, slippped into it, and vanished from sight.
Kearney waited ten minutes, "then he stole back to the house, and turned in again.
“You wait till the mornin’, and I'll l’arn you,” said he to himself as he closed his eyes, composing his mind to slumber with the thought of the' whacking in store for the Kanaka - r girl.
Fire on Reef
when she had arranged her hair and made her bed of blankets in the bottom of the canoe, lay down, but she did not close her eyes. She lay watching the
last glow óf the sunset and then the instantly following stars held her > gaze, talking to her of Karolin and the great sea spaces she had been suddenly caught away from.
The atoll island has never been adequately described by pen or brush—never will be. What brush •or pen could paint the starlight on the great lagoons, the sun rises and sunsets, the vastness of the distances unbroken by any land but just the low ring of reef? Life on an atoll is like life on a raft, immensity •on every side—and the sea.
Here, the girl felt herself suddenly shut in, the groves rising to the hilltop fretted her spirit, the lit of lagoon was nothing, and even the reef was different to the reef of Karolin. Kearney had raised something deep down in her mind against him and he seemed somehow now the centre and core of all her trouble. Dick she scarcely thought of; he, like other human beings, was of little account to her.
Thoughts came to her of trying to get the canoe out and . escaping 'back to the freedom which was the only thing she loved, but it was hopeless, she could never do the business single-handed, she was „ trapped and she knew it.
Now, when Le Juan wanted help from Nanawa, the shark-toothed ;god, she had several methods of invoking the deity; one of the simplest was by fire. She would go off, build a little fire and, as she fed it repeat •over it a formula, always the same string of words representing the wish of her heart which was never spoken.
Something generally happened after that, sometimes the wish would be granted, long overdue rain would come, or some enemy already •dying would die, or the palu that had forsaken for awhile the palu bank would come back.
But the shark-toothed one was a tricky deity and had a habit of •sending other gifts along by way of Lagnioppe.
For instance, in that great ' drought long years ago, Le Juan had sacrificed stacks of fuel to the god and weeks after he had sent the rain, but he also sent the Spanish ship with Katafa on board of it, and Katafa had given Le Juan a lot of trouble and heart searching.
Again, two years ago, he had sent the palu back to the bank but at the same time he had extended the season in the lagoon when the fish were poisonous by a fortnight.
Sometimes he was quite amiable and would cure an indigestion without killing the patient as well—but it was all a toss up. He was a dark force and even Le Juan recognized in a dim way that she was playing with evil and was never easy till the effects of her invocations were over and done with.
Katafa had often helped to stoke the little fires and she knew the ritual in all its simplicity. The thing had never interested her much till now.
MAYBE Nanawa could help her, take'the island away or knock it to pieces without hurting her, or lift it like a dish cover to the sky as she had seen it lifted by mirage, or free her in some way—any way.
She brooded for an hour or more over this business. Then, haying made up her mind, she rose, skipped lightly on to the bank and moving silently as a shadow, approached the house. She could tell by their breathing that the occupants were asleep and she could see the box of matches on the little shelf in the moonlight.
She took it, and, as she held the strange fire box in her hand, the sudden impulse came to her, maybe from the shark-toothed one, to fire „the house. The mysterious antagonism against Kearney urged her to destroy him, it seemed also a way out of her trouble.
The little ships saved the sleepers.
The remembrance of them suddenly came to the girl and the thought that some god of whom they were the insignia might be on the watch. She could not see them in the darkness of the house, but they were doubtless there on their shelves, put there to protect the sleepers just as Le Juan hung over her bed place a shrunken human hand. Maybe she was r.ight and that Kearney, without know-
ing, had placed them there under higher direction, but right or wrong, the things acted as efficiently as a spell.
She turned away and, taking the paddle from the canoe, unmoored the dinghy and pushed off for the reef.
She found, as she had expected, plenty of fuel and the match box gave her no trouble. She had watched the process of striking a match carefully with those eyes from which no detail escaped, and in a minute the stuff she had collected was alight and burning.
Then, standing in the windless night and piling on dead weeds, bits of wood and dried fish fragments that popped and blazed like gas jets, Katafa, with hands pressed against her ridi so that the flames might not catch its dracona leaves, put up her prayers to the sharktoothed one, repeating the old formula of Le Juan and backing it with the unspoken wish that the island might be taken away and freedom restored to her.
An hour later she returned across the lagoon, tied up the dinghy and, snuggling down on the canoe, went asleep.
“\JOW then, Dick, l’ave her alone and don’t get lookin’ at her}” said Mr. Kearney. “She’s|beenmisbehavin’.”
“What’s she been doin’, Jim?” asked the boy.
“Playin’ with the matches,” replied the other, thinking it just as well not to go into full particulars that were sure to bring a string of Dick’s endless questions.
They were seated at breakfast and Katafa had drawn close for her food. Katafa could be ugly, she could be pretty, never was anything more protean than the looks of this Spanish girl who was yet, in all things but birth and blood, a Kanaka. This morning as she sat in the
liquid shadow of the trees she was unpaintably beautiful. She had run away beyond the cape of wild cocoanuts and taken a dip in the lagoon and now, fresh from sleep and her j. bath, with a red flower in her hair and her hands folded in her lap, she sat like the incarnation of dawn, her luminous eyes fixed on Kearney.
But Kearney had no eye for her beauty.
“When was she playin’ with them, Jim?” asked the boy, a piece of baked bread fruit in his fingers.
“èJever you mind,” replied the other. “Get on with your breakfast and hand us that plate— I’ll l’arn her.”
He passed a plateful of food to the girl and then helped himself and the meal proceeded, Dick attending to business but with an occasional side glance at the criminal.
Playing with the matches was a hideous offence for which he had been whacked twice in earlier days. He reckoned Kearney would whack her and he looked forward to the business with an interest, tinged, but not in the least unsharpened, by his sneaking sympathy with the offence and the offender.
But, the meal finished, the sailor, instead of setting to, simply walked to the dinghy, beckoning the girl to follow him. He got in, took the sculls and, as she stepped after him, taking her seat gingerly in the stern sheets, pushed off.
The pair landed on the reef, Kearney leading the way and 'glancing about him till they came on the remains of the fire.
“Now,” said Kearney, halting and pointing to the ashes and the scorched coral, “that’s what you’ve been doing, is it; what made you light.that fire for, eh?” - „
Although the language of Kear— ney was to her as Double Dutch to a Chinese, she knew quite well his drift. He had discovered the fact that she had lit the fire. How? Maybe the god of the little ships had told him. She said nothing, 4 however, as he went on, his voice rising in anger with every word.
• “What made you touch them matches for, smellin’ round w7hen I was asleep and rrakin’ off with the matches. I’ll l’arn you.”
He picked up a stalk of seaweed and made a “skelp” at her. She was quite close and it was impossible to miss her—all the same the stalk touched nothing, she had skipped aside.
Trees had once grown here on the reef and the coral was smooth, and round and about this smooth patch Kearney, blazing with righteous wrath, pursued her. It was like trying to whip the wind. He tried to drive her on to the rough coral, but she wasn’t to be caught like that, she kept to the smooth and in three or four minutes he was done.
Flinging the stick of seaweed away, he wiped his broW' with his arms. Dic,k was watching them from the sward and Kearney felt that he had been making a fool of himself.
“Now never you do that no more,” said Mr. Kearney* shaking his finger at her. “If you do, b’gosh I’ll skelp you roun’ the island.” He nodded his head to give force to this tremendous threat and was turning to the dinghy when something caught his eye.
Away to the east across the sparkling blue stood a sail.
The dead calm had broken an hour ago and a merr^j breeze was whipping up the swell. The ship, laying beyond the northern drift current, must have been withiffi sight of the island all night. Had she seen the fire?
Kearney, shading his eyes, stood watching her. A splash from the lagogn made him turn. Katafa had taken to the water, ridi and all, and was swimming back to thel shore evidently determined not to trust herself with hint in the dinghy. He looked at her for a moment as shë swam, then he turned his gaze back to the ship.
She showed, now, square rigged and close hauled. Yes,] she was beating up for the island. Would she put in at the break, was she a whaler, a sandal wood trader or what?
In those days of Pease and Steinberger, a ship in Pacifitj waters had many possibilities, and if Kearney had known that he was watching the Portsay, captained by Colliti
Robertson who feared neither God nor the Paumotus, he would not have waited on the reef so calmly.
No, she was not making for the break but to pass the island close to northward. She was no whaler, and, relieved of this dread, he stuck to his post as shecame,every sail drawing, listed to starboard with, the press of the wind and the foam bursting from her fore foot.
Now she was nearly level with him, less than a quarter of a mile away, he could see the busy decks and a fellow running up the ratlins and at the sight of the striped shirt and the old familiar crowd, the sticks and ropes, the white painted deck house and the sun on the bellying c a nva s,
Kearney, forgetting ease and comfort and the hundred good gifts God had bestowed on him, sobriety included, sprang into the air and flung up his arms and yelled like a lunatic.
The answer came prompt in a burst of sound, like the out-crying of gulls, the helm went over and the brig, curving under the thrashing canvas presented her stern to the damned castaway shouting on the reef.
He saw the glint of a long brass gun, a plume of smoke bellying over the blue sea, and. as the wind of the shot went over him the report shook the reef like the blow of a giant’s fist, passing across the lagoon to wake the echoes of the groves.
Aimed at nothing, fired for the fun of the thing, the shot had yet found its mark, bursting the canoe of Katafa into fifty pieces.
TSLAND life had not quickened Mr. Kearney’s intellec* tual powers and for eight or nine months after that day things happened to him that he could not account for. Sometimes fishing lines broke that ought not to have broken, he would leave a bit of chewing gum on the shelf outside the house and it would be gone, taken by the birds maybe—but why did the birds suddenly develop a desire for gum? The dinghy sprang a leak that took him two days to mend and fish spears would become mysteriously blunted though put away apparently sharp enough.
He never thought of the girl. The feud between them had died down, at least on his part, and she and Dick seemed getting on well together. Too well, perhaps, from a civilized person's point of view. She and Dick could chatter away together now in the native, the girl had picked up at first enough English to help them along, but at the end of nine months, it was always the language of Karolin they spoke and even to Kearney’s heavy intelligence it was funny to hear them “clacking away” and to think that she had made him talk her lingo instead of the other way about.
More than that, the boy was altering, losing the fits of abstraction that had made him seem at times almost the reincarnation of his mother, losing also the lightheartedness of the child: laughing rarely and desperately serious over the little things of life, the moment seemed to him everything, as it is to the savage.
“She's turning him into a—Kanaka,” grumbled Kearney one day as he watched them starting for the reef , Dick with his fish spears over his shoulders, the girl following him. “Ain’t no hold on him these days and he sulks if he’s spoke to crooked or crossed in his vagaries— Weil. if he ain’t careful I’ll l’arn him for once and all.”
But he never put the threat in action, too lazy, maybe, or too dispirited, feeling himself a back number. He was. The reins had gone out of his hands, youth had pushed him aside and the boy, moving away towards savagery, had ieft this relict of high civilization a good piece astern.
But one day Kearney was roused out of his apathy. Resting in the tree shadows at the opposite side of the sward, he saw the girl, who fancied herself alone and un-
observed, cautiously and silently approaching the house.
Never for one single day .since her landing had she lost the desire to escape, to find freedom and the great spaces of the sea; her intercourse with Dick had attached her neither to Dick nor the island, yet beyond playing tricks upon Kearney, she had shewn no sign of the fret that lay
in her soul.
The cannon shot from the Portsay that had burst the canoe in pieces and the report of the gun that had rolled in echoes from the woods, there in her firm belief were the manifestations of the power and the voice of the shark-toothed one. Just as firmly she believed that some other god had intervened, frustrating the doings of Nanawa and spoiling the canoe out of spite.
HE idea had come to her that maybe it was the god who presided over the little ships, that if she got rid of them, not all at once, for that might make a disturbance with the god, but one by one, the way might be clear.
Kearney had never suspected
her of stealing and throwing away his gum, of breaking the fishing lines or blunting the spears, and if she took these things off into the wood one by one and smashed them he would be equally stupid and unsuspicious— perhaps.
It was worth trying, and to-day, finding herself alone, she stole up tq the house and peeped in. There they stood in the twilight on their shelves, the things whose god had broken her canoe. Impudent, unbroken themselves, and no doubt manned by sprites ' they stood, the schooner, the frigate, a full-rigged ship and a tiny whaleman with bluff bows, wooden davits, crows nest and try works, all complete.
An old knife of Kearney’s lay on the little shelf by the door beside the box of matches, she could not resist that; leaving the matches untouched, she picked up the knife and flung it into the lagoon. Then she entered the house and lifted the whaleman from its shelf. It was the smallest, and it was just as well to begin with the smallest, and she turned to the door with it and saw Kearney running across the sward, dropped the whaler, sprang from the doorway and ran. Another half minute and she would have been trapped.
Kearney, on seeing her entering the house, had made a bolt from the trees on the opposite side, thinking he had her bottled, but he was too late and , as for chasing her, he might as well have tried to course a hare. Stopping suddenly and picking up Dick’s tia wood ball which was lying in his way, he took aim at her as she ran, catching her full in the small of the back as she dived into the trees.
The sound of the smack of the ball followed by a gasping cry came back to him. Then she vanished,' traceless but for the swaying leaves.
“That will l’arn you,” said Mr. Kearney, turning to the house and picking up the whaler undamaged but for a broken 'main top mast. He knew now who had stolen his gum, blunted the spears and outraged the dinghy; the flinging of that knife into the lagoon had told him everything and as he sat down by the door to repair the broken spar he took an oath to be even with her.
“Break the fish lines, would you?” said he as he sat with the whaler clipped between his knees as in a vise and his fingers busy unrigging the mast. “Fling me • knife into the water—well, you wait. Not another bite or sup will you have that you don’t get yourself or me name’s not Jim Kearney. Not another bite or sup till you go down on your marrow bones and beg me pardon.” He worked away, his soul raging in him, his mind fumbling round and remembering other things to be laid to her account. Gum that had vanished, a saw that had gone west, spirited off as if by pixies—he had put these levitations down to his own carelessness
or forgetfulness, quite unable to imagine a human being’s tricky malevolence as the agent.
As he worked, the splash of oars came from the lagoon and Dick landed with three red-backed bream strung on a length of liana. Seeing Kearney alone, he looked round for Katafa, but could see no sign of her.
“Where’s she gone?” asked Dick.
Kearney looked up, thé back number had taken fire at last. “Get off with you and don’t be askin’ me questions,” he shouted, just as if he were speaking to a man, not a boy. “Go’n’ look for her if you want to find her, throwin’ me knife in the .water and smashin’ me lines, the pair of you is one as bad as the other always tinkerin’ together, you and her.”
The boy drew back, staring at the other with wide pupilled eyes.
“What’s she been doin’?” he ásked^
“Doin’,” cried Kearney. “I’ve told you what she’s been doin’. Go’n’ hunt for her in the wood if you want to know what she’s been doin’; well you know what she’s been doin’, standin’ there like the — Kanaka she’s turned you into and askin’ me what’s she been doin’—clear off with you.”
The boy flung down the fish and started off running towards the trees to the right of the sward. As he vanished Kearney heard his voice crying out in the native; “Katafa, hai amamoi Katafa, hai, hai!”
“B--y Kanaka,” grumbled Kearney.
Katafa" deep in the gloom of the groves heard the call, but she made no answer. Her mind was in a turmoil.
ONCE, long ago on Karolin, a stone thrown by a child had struck her accidentally, rousing in the dark part of her mind a confusion and resentment that almost upset her reason. As in the case of Kearney, the child had been behind her, she had not seen the stone coming and the sudden blow was as though someone had struck her with a fist. It was the same now. Though she had recognized instantly that it was only the ball that had struck her, the shock remained.
She stood for a while listening to the far-off calling of Dick. “Katafa, hai! amamoi Katafa! hai!” It grew fainter, he was taking the wrong ' directioñ and now, with the suddenness of a clapped door, silence cut him off.
That was a trick of the woods caused maybe by the upward trend of the land, a person calling to you and moving away in a horizontal direction would suddenly be cut off.
Katafa had never been alone in the woods before this, she had always gone accompanied by either the boy qr Kearney. Never had she grown accustomed to these vast
masses of trees, their gloom, their congregated perfumes, the strange lights and shadows made by the moving branches and fronds, the sense of being surrounded; always amongst them the great distances of the atoll cried louder to her to come back and the heart ache and homesickness grew more intense.
But to-day she had lost her fear of ,the trees and the call of Karolin had lost for awhile its power. The outrage committed by Kearney had shaken her away from all other considerations, all other pictures but that of the first man who had struck her.
She moved away to the right and entered an alley formed by a double line of matamata trees; ferns grew here on either side and above in the liquid gloom cables of Hantasse swung powdered with starry blossoms.
She stood for a moment glancing up at the orchids that seemed like birds in flight, the bugles of the giant convolvuli and the far-off roof of leaves moving to the wind in trembles of shattered light and shadow.
Then she went on, reaching at last a little bay in the trees, ferns and bushes where the glint of something white caught her eye. It was a skull; she pushed the leaves aside, the whole skeleton was there, the ribs still articulated, the vertebrae intact. Flame lit by mortal hand could not have calcined the bones more whitely, destroyed the flesh more completely than the slow fire of time living here through the years amidst the cool green ferns.
Katafa, holding the leaves aside, gazed at the skull. Amongst Le Juan’s properties had been a man’s skull used when she was invoking the dark powers against some enemy.
As Katafa gazed at the skull, the thought of Kearney came to her and the vision of him lying like that—and the wish.
WHEN Dick came back to the house the girl had not returned.
Kearney seemed to have recovered his temper and presently putting the ship away on the shelf till to-morrow, he helped the boy to prepare supper. They scarcely spoke over this business, the shadow of the quarrel still hung between them and that supper as they sat silent opposite one another was a bad mark in the life of Dick. It was his coming of age party, for Kearney was treating him as a man with whom he had a difference, not as a boy to be threatened and “skelped.”
Neither of them saw that far away scene of the Dick of
the Raratonga, the tall sailor dancing the tiny child in his arms, and crying out to Bowers: “Says his other name’s M. Sure as there’s hair on his head he’s been tellin’ me. Dick M’s his name, ain’t it, bo?”
Neither of them saw the early island days when Dick M, left entirely in the sailor’s charge by his grandfather, fished in the lagoon with thread for line and played at fish spearing on the reef and tried to scull the dinghy guided and assisted by his big companion.
Dick, sitting there in the sunset this evening, was no longer a child, not quite a man he was greater than a man; fresh from the hand of nature that had moulded and wrought on his father and mother, not quite civilized, not quite a savage, a poet might have seen in him the youth of the world, the dawn of man before cities arose to cast their shadows on him, before civilization created savages.
Neither of them saw the long years of companionship during which they had worked as ship builders together, the storms and incidents by shore and reef—it was all as nought. Katafa had brought a new interest to Dick. Age and laziness had done their work with Kearney.
As they sat like this, the meal nearly finished, they saw the girl, she had come out from among the trees away on the other side of the sward. She was carrying something under her arm. She stood for a moment shading her eyes against the sunset and looking towards them, then she vanished back amongst the trees, and Dick, rising to his feet, came running across the sward. He knew where to find her. Since the breaking of the canoe, she had made a shack for herself amongst the trees and there she was crouched now and dimly to be seen in the fading light.
At the sound of the parting of the leaves, she moved suddenly as if trying to hide something with her body.
“Katafa,” said thç boy, speaking in the native, “the food is waiting for you and he is no longer angry.”
“It does not matter, Taori,” replied her voice from the shadows. “I will eat to-morrow.”
“What is that you have beneath you there?”
“A breadfruit, Taori—I want no better food.”
“Ahai—but you have no fire to cook it.”
“It does not matter, Taori, I will cook it to-morrow.” “Then eat it raw,” said he, angry with her, and off he went.
Taori'was the name she had given him.
WHEN he had gone she took the skull which she had been hiding and placed it beside her, then she lay down with her eyes fixed on the ruddy tinted light of the sunset visible through the spaces of the leaves.
There was no moon that night, and a dead calm had set
in an hour before sunset. The heat was oppressive, even the great Pacific seemed drugged and drowsy and the sound of the surf on the reef the breathing of a sleeper uneasy in his sleep.
Kearney, awaking about midnight, came out for a breath of air. It was almost as oppressive out of doors as in the house, and above the trees the sky, heavy with stars, stood like the roof of a jewelled oven, the fronds of a palmetto by the water stood without a tremor and the lagoon lay like a fallen sky of stars, tremorless space itself.
Kearney came down to the bank and sat bathing his feet in the water, the ripples waving out and shattering the refleeted firmament. He heard the rustle of robber crabs feeding on the fallen drupes of a pandamas near by, the splash of a
heavy fish beyond the cape of wild cocoanut, the fall of a nut from the grove behind the house, the fret and murmur of the reef—no other sound from land and sea and all that wilderness of stars.
Then as he lay on his elbow, yawning and half asleep, a spark of light that was not a star struck his sight. It was on the reef line. It died out, came to life again, flickered and grew. Someone was lighting a fire on the reef. He sat up, glanced at the dinghy lying safely at her moorings, then out away at the far-off fire.
“She ain’t taken the boat,” said he to himself, “she must have got over swimmin’, curse that Kanaka, what trick is she up to anyway signiling—that’s what she’s after—signiling, that’s her game, maybe to bring a hive of niggers a top of us.”
He rushed off to see if the box of matches had been taken; no, it was there, but he knew she could light a fire with a fire stick. She had taught Dick to do it. He came running back to the dinghy, got in, unmoored her and pushed out. He had always had it in his mind that the fire she had lit long ago was a signal made to attract her people whoever they might be.
The absurdity of this idea never struck him, he just “had it in his mind” as an easy way of accounting for the matter, and to-night, in face of this second offence, his wrath rose up against the girl as it had never risen before. Everything conspired, the heat, the want of sleep, the quarrel with Dick, and the antagonism she had constructed against herself by snatching Dick away into Kanaka land and making him talk her lingo; her very youth was against her to-night. It was her youth that had made her companion with Dick. Kearney had killed men in his time and the years of soft island life, the companionship of the child, the absence of drink, whilst softening him, had not destroyed the fierce something which was not Kearney and which could wake under stimulus to strike regardless of consequences.
Guiding the dinghy across the water he was steering straight for murder. Not intentional murder, but the murder we come on in the slums when men of Kearney’s type urged to the deed by a nagging wife or gone-wrong daughter and assisted maybe by alcohol, suddenly give loose to themselves and maim or kill.
His project was to land unobserved if possible, and then go for her with a scull, bowl her over and then beat the devil out of her once and for all with his fists. He’d “l’arn” her this time, sure.
Less than half-way across he drew in his sculls and then with a single scull at the stern, began working the boat almost noiselessly towards the reef. He could see her now standing by the fire and feeding it, the cairn-gorm light of the flames upon her face and arms. It was a big fire and lit the reef, the lagoon water and the foam of the gently curling waves. Great fish attracted by the light were swimming in the waters of the lagoon, nosing about the reef. The news had gone far and wide that something was doing and could Nature, who has her own methods of warning men and beasts have expressed herself in writing with fire for ink, above the breaking foam, would have appeared the words: “The Reef is Dangerous To-night.”
THEN as Kearney drew closer, the girl who had suddenly turned and sighted him, broke away from the fire and ran.
He drew in the scull, took his seat and seizing the other scull, rowed as if rowing a race, the nose of the dinghy crushed against the coral. He sprang out, secured her and turned scull in hand.
The girl was gone.
Beyond the fire glow he thought he saw her for a moment, but the light dazzled his eyes and when he put it behind him he could see nothing but the starlight coral, its humps and dips and pools, the foam of the waves and the tranquil mirror of the lagoon.
He knew quite well what had become of her, she had dipped into one of the reef pools; they were the only possible places of concealment. She had not taken to the lagoon, he could see that at a glance, for the water lay unrippled and a swimmer’s head would have shewn even more clearly than by day. He came along grasping the scull, with the anger of the balked hunter now at his heart. He looked into the first great pool—nothing, only a trapped fish flitting like a ghost here and there, its shadow’ ghost following it across the white coral sand of the bottom.
He rose and was moving on when a great undulation came in the lagoon water flowing from behind him and spreading to the west.
Kearney turned, the fire still gave a good light and between him and the fire something had heaved itself on to the coral. Attracted by the fire light it had left the lagoon soundless as a crawding cat, yet tons in weight. It w’as only some thirty feet away from him, yet it seemed formless, a long heaped mass covered writh shiny tarpaulin. Then suddenly it took form, extending itself like a slug, lamps, like the headlights of a locomotive, blazed out and around the lamps great serpents curled like the locks of Medusa.
For one fatal moment he stood staring at the thing
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The Garden of God
Continued from page 35
before him. Then a rope-like something slashed round his waist and tightened.
He was caught.
Katafa had taken refuge in the second great pool, a pool some four feet deep and large enough for a person to swim in. The water was tepid and the floor of soft sand, and as she slipped into it, gracile as a serpent, she did not look to see what fish there might be there.
A small whip r#y, an electric eel or a stinging jelly fish would have made the pool untenable, she knew, but chanced it, and, lying submerged to the chin, waited and listened.
SHE felt an eel pass like a cold waving ribbon over her thighs, it touched the outer side of her left leg as it made its way along the sand and was gone. Then she felt the tap of small sharp pointed fingers here "and there on her body. Fish were nuzzling her, yet she dared not move for dread of setting the water waving. Instinct told her that Kearney was more to be feared than fish or eels or the great crab of the reef and even when a sting like a hot needle sticking in her side told her that a banda fish had attacked her flesh, her only movement was the drift of her right hand like floating seaweed towards her side, and the sudden snap of the fingers as the banda fish, caught by the hand, was crushed to death.
She kneaded the fragments viciously between her fingers, then, as she released them, sudden and sharp came a cry, the piercing cry of a man who has been speared or stabbed with a shark-toothed dagger. Raising her head swift as a lizard, she glanced, shuddered and dived again. She had seen Nanawa.
Katafa knew the seas and its creatures with an intimacy given to few naturalists. She had seen great fleets of giant whip rays enter Karolin lagoon, disporting under the stars and filling the night with a sound like the thunder of big guns at
battle practice. She had seen a cachelot driven by destroyers to its death and an octopus with sixty feet tentacles floating like a burst balloon near the palu bank, driven up from mile deep water by some submarine disturbance, the sharks tearing at it and the eyes still living, lugubrious and staring at the sky as if in astonishment. But she had never seen the most terrible of all sea things,the giant decapod barrel shaped, great as an oak tree, with two backs, a tongue armed with teeth, eyes a foot broad and ten tentacles, two of thirty or forty feet in length.
Snuggling into the tepid water she lay listening—nothing, only the sound of the surf rising and falling to the pulse of the sea whilst the untroubled stars shone down' on her and the minutes passed bringing not another sound to tell of what was happening—of what had happened.
Then, raising herself gently, she looked again. The reef shewed nothing but the last embers of the fire. The dinghy was lying still just where she had been moored, but of the man who had brought. her across there was no trace.
To be Continued.