CHAPTER XI  THE ISLAND

    ''Childer!" shouted Paddy. He was at the cross-trees in the full dawn, whilst the children standing beneath on deck were craning their faces up to him. "There's an island forenint us."

    "Hurrah!" cried Dick. He was not quite sure what an island might be like in the concrete, but it was something fresh, and Paddy's voice was jubilant.

    "Land ho! it is," said he, coming down to the deck. "Come for'ard to the bows, and I'll show it you."

    He stood on the timber in the bows and lifted Emmeline up in his arms; and even at that humble elevation from the water she could see something of an undecided colour-green for choice--on the horizon.

    It was not directly ahead, but on the starboard bow-or, as she would have expressed it, to the right. When Dick had looked and expressed his disappointment at there being so little to see, Paddy began to make preparations for leaving the ship.

    It was only just now, with land in sight, that he recognised in some fashion the horror of the position from which they were about to escape.

    He fed the children hurriedly with some biscuits and tinned meat, and then, with a biscuit in his hand, eating as he went, he trotted about the decks, collecting things and stowing them in the dinghy. The bolt of striped flannel, all the old clothes, a housewife full of needles and thread, such as seamen sometimes carry, the half-sack of potatoes, a saw which he found in the caboose, the precious coil of tobacco, and a lot of other odds and ends he transhipped, sinking the little dinghy several strakes in the process. Also, of course, he took the breaker of water, and the remains of the biscuit and tinned stuff they had brought on board. These being stowed, and the dinghy ready, he went forward with the children to the bow, to see how the island was bearing.

    It had loomed up nearer during the hour or so in which he had been collecting and storing the things--nearer, and more to the right, which meant that the brig was being borne by a fairly swift current, and that she would pass it, leaving it two or three miles to starboard. It was well they had command of the dinghy.

    "The sea's all round it," said Emmeline, who was seated on Paddy's shoulder, holding on tight to him, and gazing upon the island, the green of whose trees was now visible, an oasis of verdure in the sparkling and seraphic blue.

    "Are we going there, Paddy?" asked Dick, holding on to a stay, and straining his eyes towards the land.

    "Ay, are we," said Mr. Button. "Hot foot--five knots, if we're makin' wan; and it's ashore we'll be by noon, and maybe sooner."

    The breeze had freshened up, and was blowing dead from the island, as though the island were making a weak attempt to blow them away from it.

    Oh, what a fresh and perfumed breeze it was! All sorts of tropical growing things had joined their scent in one bouquet.

    "Smell it," said Emmeline, expanding her small nostrils. "That's what I smelt last night, only it's stronger now."

    The last reckoning taken on board the *Northumberland* had proved the ship to be south by east of the Marquesas; this was evidentIy one of those small, lost islands that lie here and there scuth by east of the Marquesas. Islands the most lonely and beautiful in the world.

    As they gazed it grew before them, and shifted still more to the right. It was hilly and green now, though the trees could not be clearly made out; here, the green was lighter in colour, and there, darker. A rim of pure white marble seemed to surround its base. It was foam breaking on the barrier reef.

    In another hour the feathery foliage of the cocoanut palms could be made out, and the old sailor judged it time to take to the boat.

    He lifted Emmeline, who was clasping her luggage, over the rail on to the channel, and deposited her in the sternsheets; then Dick.

    In a moment the boat was adrift, the mast steeped, and the Shenandoah left to pursue her mysterious voyage at the will of the currents of the sea.

    "You're not going to the island, Paddy," cried Dick, as the old man put the boat on the port tack.

    "You be aisy," replied the other, "and don't be larnin' your gran'mother. How the divil d'ye think I'd fetch the land sailin' dead in the wind's eye?"

    "Has the wind eyes?"

    Mr. Button did not answer the question. He was troubled in his mind. What if the island were inhabited? He had spent several years in the South Seas. He knew the people of the Marquesas and Samoa, and liked them. But here he was out of his bearings.

    However, all the troubling in the world was of no use. It was a case of the island or the deep sea, and, putting the boat on the starboard tack, he lit his pipe and leaned back with the tiller in the crook of his arm. His keen eyes had made out from the deck of the brig an opening in the reef, and he was making to run the dinghy abreast of the opening, and then take to the sculls and row her through.

    Now, as they drew nearer, a sound came on the breeze- sound faint and sonorous and dreamy. It was the sound of the breakers on the reef. The sea just here was heaving to a deeper swell, as if vexed in its sleep at the resistance to it of the land.

    Emmeline, sitting with her bundle in her lap, stared without speaking at the sight before her. Even in the bright, glorious sunshine, and despite the greenery that showed beyond, it was a desolate sight seen from her place in the dinghy. A white, forlorn beach, over which the breakers raced and tumbled, seagulls wheeling and screaming, and over all the thunder of the surf.

    Suddenly the break became visible, and a glimpse of smooth, blue water beyond. Button unshipped the tiller, unstepped the mast, and took to the sculls.

    As they drew nearer, the sea became more active, savage, and alive; the thunder of the surf became louder, the breakers more fierce and threatening, the opening broader.

    One could see the water swirling round the coral piers, for the tide was flooding into the lagoon; it had seized the little dinghy and was bearing it along far swifter than the sculls could have driven it. Sea-gulls screamed around them, the boat rocked and swayed. Dick shouted with excitement, and Emmeline shut her eyes tight.

    Then, as though a door had been swiftly and silently closed, the sound of the surf became suddenly less. The boat floated on an even keel; she opened her eyes and found herself in Wonderland.


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