CHAPTER XVI  THE POETRY OF LEARNING

    To forget the passage of time you must live in the open air, in a warm climate, with as few clothes as possible upon you. You must collect and cook your own food. Then, after a while, if you have no special ties to bind you to civilisation, Nature will begin to do for you what she does for the savage. You will recognise that it is possible to be happy without books or newspapers, letters or bills. You will recognise the part sleep plays in Nature.

    After a month on the island you might have seen Dick at one moment full of life and activity, helping Mr. Button to dig up a taro root or what-not, the next curled up to sleep like a dog. E mmeline the same. Profound and prolonged lapses into sleep; sudden awakenings into a world of pure air and dazzling light, the gaiety of colour all round. Nature had indeed opened her doors to these children.

    One might have fancied her in an experimental mood, saying: "Let me put these buds of civilisation back into my nursery and see what they will become--how they will blossom, and what will be the end of it all."

    Just as Emmeline had brought away her treasured box from the *Northumberland*, Dick had conveyed with him a small linen bag that chinked when shaken. It contained marbles. Small olive-green marbles and middle-sized ones of various colours; glass marbles with splendid coloured cores; and one large old grandfather marble too big to be played with, but none the less to be worshipped--a god marble.

    Of course one cannot play at marbles on board ship, but one can play with them. They had been a great comfort to Dick on the voyage. He knew them each personally, and he would roll them out on the mattress of his bunk and review them nearly every day, whilst Emmeline looked on.

    One day Mr Button, noticing Dick and the girl kneeling opposite each other on a flat, hard piece of sand near the water's edge, strolled up to see what they were doing. They were playing marbles. He stood with his hands in his pockets and his pipe in his mouth watching and criticising the game, pleased that the "childer" were amused. Then he began to be amused himself, and in a few minutes more he was down on his knees taking a hand; Emmeline, a poor player and an unenthusiastic one, withdrawing in his favour.

    After that it was a common thing to see them playing together, the old sailor on his knees, one eye shut, and a marble against the nail of his horny thumb taking aim; Dick and Emmeline on the watch to make sure he was playing fair, their shrill voices echoing amidst the cocoa-nut trees with cries of "Knuckle down, Paddy, knuckle down!" He entered into all their amusements just as one of themselves. On high and rare occasions Emmeline would open her precious box, spread its contents and give a tea party, Mr. Button acting as guest or president as the case might be.

    "Is your tay to your likin', ma'am?" he would enquire; and Emmeline, sipping at her tiny cup, would invariably make answer: "Another lump of sugar, if you please, Mr. Button"; to which would come the stereotyped reply: "Take a dozen, and welcome; and another cup for the good of your make."

    Then Emmeline would wash the things in imaginary water, replace them in the box, and every one would lose their company manners and become quite natural again.

    "Have you ever seen your name, Paddy?" asked Dick one morning.

    "Seen me which?"

    "Your name?"

    "Arrah, don't be axin' me questions," replied the other. "How the divil could I see me name

    "Wait and I'll show you," replied Dick.

    He ran and fetched a piece of cane, and a minute later on the salt-white sand in face of orthography and the sun appeared these portentous letters:

B U T T E N

    "Faith, an' it's a cliver boy y'are," said Mr. Button admiringly, as he leaned luxuriously against a cocoa-nut tree, and contemplated Dick's handiwork. "And that's me name, is it? What's the letters in it?"

    Dick enumerated them.

    "I'll teach you to do it, too," he said. "I'll teach you to write your name, Paddy--would you like to write your name, Paddy?"

    "No," replied the other, who only wanted to be let smoke his pipe in peace; "me name's no use to me."

    But Dick, with the terrible gadfly tirelessness of childhood, was not to be put off, and the unfortunate Mr. Button had to go to school despite himself. In a few days he could achieve the act of drawing upon the sand characters somewhat like the above, but not without prompting, Dick and Emmeline on each side of him, breathless for fear of a mistake.

    "Which next?" would ask the sweating scribe, the perspiration pouring from his forehead. "Which next? An' be quick, for it's moithered I am."

    "N. N--that's right. Ow, you're making it crooked! That's right--there! it's all there now. Hurroo!"

    "Hurroo!" would answer the scholar, waving his old hat over his own name, and "Hurroo! "would answer the cocoa-nut grove echoes; whilst the far, faint "Hi, hi!" of the wheeling gulls on the reef would come over the blue lagoon as if in acknowledgment of the deed, and encouragement.

    The appetite comes with teaching. The pleasantest mental exercise of childhood is the instruction of one's elders. Even Emmeline feIt this. She took the geography class one day in a timid manner, putting her little hand first in the great horny fist of her friend.

    "Mr Button!"

    "Well, honey?"

    "I know g'ography."

    "And what's that?" asked Mr. Button.

    This stumped Emmeline for a moment.

    "It's where places are," she said at last.

    "Which places?" enquired he.

    "All sorts of places," replied Emmeline. "Mr. Button!"

    "What is it, darlin'?"

    "Would you like to learn g'ography?"

    "I'm not wishful for larnin'," said the other hurriedly. "It makes me head buzz to hear them things they rade out of books."

    "Paddy," said Dick, who was strong on drawing that afternoon, "look here." He drew the following on the sand:

[a bad drawing of an elephant]

    "That's an elephant," he said in a dubious voice.

    Mr. Button grunted, and the sound was by no means filled with enthusiastic assent. A chill fell on the proceedings.

    Dick wiped the elephant slowly and regretfully out, whilst Emmeline felt disheartened. Then her face suddenly cleared; the seraphic smile came into it for a moment--a bright idea had struck her.

    "Dicky," she said, "draw Henry the Eight."

    Dick's face brightened. He cleared the sand and drew the following figure:

         l  l
     <[     ]>
         /  \

    "That's not Henry the Eight," he explained, "but he will be in a minute. Daddy showed me how to draw him; he's nothing till he gets his hat on."

    "Put his hat on, put his hat on!" implored Emmeline, gazing alternately from the figure on the sand to Mr. Button's face, watching for the delighted smile with which she was sure the old man would greet the great king when he appeared in all his glory.

    Then Dick with a single stroke of the cane put Henry's hat on.

         ==
         l  l
     <[     ]>
         /  \

    Now no portrait could be liker to his monk-hunting majesty than the above, created with one stroke of a cane (so to speak), yet Mr. Button remained unmoved.

    "I did it for Mrs. Sims," said Dick regretfully, "and she said it was the image of him."

    "Maybe the hat's not big enough," said Emmeline, turning her head from side to side as she gazed at the picture. It looked right, but she felt there must be something wrong, as Mr. Button did not applaud. Has not every true artist felt the same before the silence of some critic?

    Mr. Button tapped the ashes out of his pipe and rose to stretch himself, and the class rose and trooped down to.the lagoon edge, leaving Henry and his hat a figure on the sand to be obliterated by the wind.

    After a while, as time went on, Mr. Button took to his lessons as a matter of course, the small inventions of the children assisting their utterly untrustworthy knowledge. Knowledge, perhaps, as useful as any other there amidst the lovely poetry of the palm trees and the sky.

    Days slipped into weeks, and weeks into months, without the appearance of a ship--a fact which gave Mr. Button very little trouble; and even less to his charges, who were far too busy and amused to bother about ships.

    The rainy season came on them with a rush, and at the words "rainy season" do not conjure up in your mind the vision of a rainy day in Manchester.

    The rainy season here was quite a lively time. Torrential showers followed by bursts of sunshine, rainbows, and rain-dogs in the sky, and the delicious perfume of all manner of growing things on the earth.

    After the rains the old sailor said he'd be after making a house of bamboos before the next rains came on them; but, maybe, before that they'd be off the island.

    "However," said he, "I'll dra' you a picture of what it'll be like when it's up;" and on the sand he drew a figure like this:

X

    Having thus drawn the plans of the building, he leaned back against a cocoa-palm and lit his pipe. But he had reckoned without Dick.

    The boy had not the least wish to live in a house, but he had a keen desire to see one built, and help to build one. The ingenuity which is part of the multiform basis of the American nature was aroused.

    "How're you going to keep them from slipping, if you tie them together like that?" he asked, when Paddy had more fully explained his method.

    "Which from slippin'?"

    "The canes--one from the other?"

    "After you've fixed thim, one cross t'other, you drive a nail through the cross-piece and a rope over all."

    "Have you any nails, Paddy?"

    "No," said Mr. Button, "I haven't."

    "Then how're you goin' to build the house?"

    "Ax me no questions now; I want to smoke me pipe."

    But he had raised a devil difficult to lay. Morning, noon, and night it was "Paddy, when are you going to begin the house?" or, "Paddy, I guess I've got a way to make the canes stick together without nailing." Till Mr. Button, in despair, like a beaver, began to build.

    There was great cane-cutting in the canebrake above, and, when sufficient had been procured, Mr. Button struck work for three days. He would have struck altogether, but he had found a taskmaster.

    The tireless Dick, young and active, with no original laziness in his composition, no old bones to rest, or pipe to smoke, kept after him like a bluebottle fly. It was in vain that he tried to stave him off with stories about fairies and Cluricaunes. Dick wanted to build a house.

    Mr. Button didn't. He wanted to rest. He did not mind fishing or climbing a cocoa-nut tree, which he did to admiration by passing a rope round himself and the tree, knotting it, and using it as a support during the climb; but house-building was monotonous work.

    He said he had no nails. Dick countered by showing how the canes could be held together by notching them.

    "And, faith, but it's a cliver boy you are," said the weary one admiringly, when the other had explained his method.

    "Then come along, Paddy, and stick 'em up."

    Mr. Button said he had no rope, that he'd have to think about it, that to-morrow or next day he'd be after getting some notion how to do it without rope. But Dick pointed out that the brown cloth which Nature has wrapped round the cocoa-palm stalks would do instead of rope if cut in strips. Then the badgered one gave in.

    They laboured for a fortnight at the thing, and at the end of that time had produced a rough sort of wigwam on the borders of the chapparel.

    Out on the reef, to which they often rowed in the dinghy, when the tide was low, deep pools would be left, and in the pools fish. Paddy said if they had a spear they might be able to spear some of these fish, as he had seen the natives do away "beyant" in Tahiti.

    Dick enquired as to the nature of a spear, and next day produced a ten-foot cane sharpened at the end after the fashion of a quill pen.

    "Sure, what's the use of that?" said M.r Button. "You might job it into a fish, but he'd be aff it in two ticks; it's the barb that holds them."

    Next day the indefatigable one produced the cane amended; he had whittled it down about three feet from the end and on one side, and carved a fairly efficient barb. It was good enough, at all events, to spear a "groper" with, that evening, in the sunset-lit pools of the reef at low tide.

    "There aren't any potatoes here," said Dick one day, after the second rains.

    "We've et 'em all months ago," replied Paddy.

    "How do potatoes grow?" enquired Dick.

    "Grow, is it? Why, they grow in the ground; and where else would they grow?" He explained the process of potato planting: cutting them into pieces so that there was an eye in each piece, and so forth. "Having done this," said Mr. Button, "you just chuck the pieces in the ground; their eyes grow, green leaves 'pop up,' and then, if you dug the roots up maybe, six months after, you'd find bushels of potatoes in the ground, ones as big as your head, and weeny ones. It's like a famiIy of childer--some's big and some's little. But there they are in the ground, and all you have to do is to take a fark and dig a potful of them with a turn of your wrist, as many a time I've done it in the ould days."

    "Why didn't we do that?" asked Dick.

    "Do what? " asked Mr. Button.

    "Plant some of the potatoes."

    "And where'd we have found the spade to plant them with?"

    "I guess we could have fixed up a spade," replied the boy. "I made a spade at home, out of a piece of old board once- daddy helped."

    "Well, skelp off with you, and make a spade now," replied the other, who wanted to be quiet and think, "and you and Em'line can dig in the sand."

    Emmeline was sitting nearby, stringing together some gorgeous blossoms on a tendril of liana. Months of sun and ozone had made a considerable difference in the child. She was as brown as a gipsy and freckled, not very much taller, but twice as plump. Her eyes had lost considerably that look as though she were contemplating futurity and immensity--not as abstractions, but as concrete images, and she had lost the habit of sleep-walking.

    The shock of the tent coming down on the first night she was tethered to the scull had broken her of it, helped by the new healthful conditions of life, the sea-bathing, and the eternal open air. There is no narcotic to excel fresh air.

    Months of semi-savagery had made also a good deal of difference in Dick's appearance. He was two inches taller than on the day they landed. Freckled and tanned, he had the appearance of a boy of twelve. He was the promise of a fine man. He was not a good-looking child, but he was healthy-looking, with a jolly laugh, and a daring, almost impudent expression of face.

    The question of the children's clothes was beginning to vex the mind of the old sailor. The climate was a suit of clothes in itself. One was much happier with almost nothing on. Of course there were changes of temperature, but they were slight. Eternal summer, broken by torrential rains, and occasionally a storm, that was the climate of the island; still, the "childer" couldn't go about with nothing on.

    He took some of the striped flannel and made Emmeline a kilt. It was funny to see him sitting on the sand, Emmeline standing before him with her garment round her waist, being tried on; he, with a mouthful of pins, and the housewife with the scissors, needles, and thread by his side.

    "Turn to the lift a bit more," he'd say, "aisy does it. Stidy so--musha! musha! where's thim scissors? Dick, be holdin' the end of this bit of string till I get the stitches in behint. Does that hang comfortable? well, an' you're the trouble an' all. How's that? That's aisier, is it? Lift your fut till I see if it comes to your knees. Now off with it, and lave me alone till I stitch the tags to it."

    It was the mixture of a skirt and the idea of a sail, for it had two rows of reef points; a most ingenious idea, as it could be reefed if the child wanted to go paddling, or in windy weather.


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