One morning, about a week after the day on which the old sailor, to use his own expression, had bent a skirt on Emmeline, Dick came through the woods and across the sands running. He had been on the hill-top.
"Paddy," he cried to the old man, who was fixing a hook on a fishing-line, "there's a ship!"
It did not take Mr. Button long to reach the hill-top, and there she was, beating up for the island. Bluff-bowed and squab, the figure of an old Dutch woman, and telling of her trade a league off. It was just after the rains, the sky was not yet quite clear of clouds; you could see showers away at sea, and the sea was green and foam-capped.
There was the trying-out gear; there were the boats, the crow's nest, and all complete, and labelling her a whaler. She was a ship, no doubt, but Paddy Button would as soon have gone on board a ship manned by devils, and captained by Lucifer, as on board a South Sea whaleman. He had been there before, and he knew.
He hid the children under a large banyan, and told them not to stir or breathe till he came back, for the ship was "the devil's own ship"; and if the men on board caught them they'd skin them alive and all.
Then he made for the beach; he collected all the things out of the wigwam, and all the old truck in the shape of boots and old clothes, and stowed them away in the dinghy. He would have destroyed the house, if he could, but he hadn't time. Then he rowed the dinghy a hundred yards down the lagoon to the left, and moored her under the shade of an aoa, whose branches grew right over the water. Then he came back through the cocoa-nut grove on foot, and peered through the trees over the lagoon to see what was to be seen.
The wind was blowing dead on for the opening in the reef, and the old whaleman came along breasting the swell with her bluff bows, and entered the lagoon. There was no leadsman in her chains. She just came in as if she knew all the soundings by heart--as probably she did--for these whalemen know every hole and corner in the Pacific.
The anchor fell with a splash, and she swung to it, making a strange enough picture as she floated on the blue mirror, backed by the graceful palm tree on the reef. Then Mr. Button, without waiting to see the boats lowered, made back to his charges, and the three camped in the woods that night.
Next morning the whaleman was off and away, leaving as a token of her visit the white sand all trampled, an empty bottle, half an old newspaper, and the wigwam torn to pieces.
The old sailor cursed her and her crew, for the incident had brought a new exercise into his lazy life. Every day now at noon he had to climb the hill, on the look-out for whalemen. Whalemen haunted his dreams, though I doubt if he would willingly have gone on board even a Royal Mail steamer. He was quite happy where he was. After long years of the fo'cs'le the island was a change indeed. He had tobacco enough to last him for an indefinite time, the children for companions, and food at his elbow. He would have been entirely happy if the island had only been supplied by Nature with a public-house.
The spirit of hilarity and good fellowship, however, who suddenly discovered this error on the part of Nature, rectified it, as will be presently seen.
The most disastrous result of the whaleman's visit was not the destruction of the "house," but the disappearance of Emmeline's box. Hunt high or hunt low, it could not be found. Mr. Button in his hurry must have forgotten it when he removed the things to the dinghy--at all events, it was gone. Probably one of the crew of the whalemen had found it and carried it off with him; no one could say. It was gone, and there was the end of the matter, and the beginning of great tribulation, that lasted Emmeline for a week.
She was intensely fond of coloured things, coloured flowers especially; and she had the prettiest way of making them into a wreath for her own or someone else's head. It was the hat-making instinct that was at work in her, perhaps; at all events, it was a feminine instinct, for Dick made no wreaths.
One morning, as she was sitting by the old sailor engaged in stringing shells, Dick came running along the edge of the grove. He had just come out of the wood, and he seemed to be looking for something. Then he found what he was in search of--a big shell--and with it in his hand made back to the wood.
Item.--His dress was a piece of cocoa-nut cloth tied round his middle. Why he wore it at all, goodness knows, for he would as often as not be running about stark naked.
"I've found something, Paddy!" he cried, as he disappeared among the trees.
"What have you found?" piped Emmeline, who was always interested in new things.
"Something funny!" came back from amidst the trees.
Presently he returned; but he was not running now. He was walking slowly and carefully, holding the shell as if it contained something precious that he was afraid would escape.
"Paddy, I turned over the old barrel and it had a cork thing in it, and I pulled it out, and the barrel is full of awfully funny-smelling stuff--I've brought some for you to see."
He gave the shell into the old sailor's hands. There was about half a gill of yellow liquid in the shell. Paddy smelt it, tasted, and gave a shout.
"What is it, Paddy? " asked Emmeline.
"Where did you say you got it--in the ould bar'l, did you say?" asked Mr. Button, who seemed dazed and stunned as if by a blow.
"Yes; I pulled the cork thing out--"
"Did yiz put it back?"
"Oh, glory be to God! Here have I been, time out of mind, sittin' on an ould empty bar'l, with me tongue hangin' down to me heels for the want of a drink, and it full of rum all the while!"
He took a sip of the stuff, tossed the lot off, closed his lips tight to keep in the fumes, and shut one eye.
Mr. Button scrambled to his feet. They followed him through the chapparel till they reached the water source. There lay the little green barrel; turned over by the restless Dick, it Iay with its bung pointing to the leaves above You could see the hollow it had made in the soft soil during the years. So green was it, and so like an object of nature, a bit of old tree-bole, or a lichen-stained boulder, that though the whalemen had actually watered from the source, its real nature had not been discovered.
Mr. Button tapped on it with the butt-end of the shell: it was nearly full. Why it had been left there, by whom, or how, there was no one to tell. The old lichen-covered skulls might have told, could they have spoken.
"We'll rowl it down to the beach," said Paddy, when he had taken another taste of it.
He gave Dick a sip. The boy spat it out, and made a face, then, pushing the barrel before them, they began to roll it downhill to the beach, Emmeline running before them crowned with flowers.