CHAPTER XX  THE DREAMER ON THE REEF

    "I wonder where Paddy is? " cried Dick next morning. He was coming out of the chapparel, pulling a dead branch after him. "He's left his coat on the sand, and the tinder box in it, so I'll make the fire. There's no use waiting. I want my breakfast. Bother!"

    He trod the dead stick with his naked feet, breaking it into pieces.

    Emmeline sat on the sand and watched him.

    Emmeline had two gods of a sort: Paddy Button and Dick. Paddy was almost an esoteric god wrapped in the fumes of tobacco and mystery. The god of rolling ships and creaking masts--the masts and vast sail spaces of the *Northumberland* were an enduring vision in her mind--the deity who had lifted her from a little boat into this marvellous place, where the birds were coloured and the fish were painted, where life was never dull, and the skies scarcely ever grey.

    Dick, the other deity, was a much more understandable personage, but no less admirable, as a companion and protector. In the two years and five months of island life he had grown nearly three inches. He was as strong as a boy of twelve, and could scull the boat almost as well as Paddy himself, and light a fire. Indeed, during the last few months Mr. Button, engaged in resting his bones, and contemplating rum as an abstract idea, had left the cooking and fishing and general gathering of food as much as possible to Dick.

    "It amuses the craythur to pritind he's doing things," he would say, as he watched Dick delving in the earth to make a little oven--Island-fashion--for the cooking of fish or what-not.

    "Come along, Em," said Dick, piling the broken wood on top of some rotten hibiscus sticks; "give me the tinder box."

    He got a spark on to a bit of punk, and then he blew at it, looking not unlike Aeolus as represented on those old Dutch charts that smell of schiedam and snuff, and give one mermaids and angels instead of soundings.

    The fire was soon sparkling and crackling, and he heaped on sticks in profusion, for there was plenty of fuel, and he wanted to cook breadfruit.

    The breadfruit varies in size, according to age, and in colour according to season. These that Dick was preparing to cook were as large as small melons. Two would be more than enough for three people's breakfast. They were green and knobbly on the outside, and they suggested to the mind unripe lemons, rather than bread.

    He put them in the embers, just as you put potatoes to roast, and presently they sizzled and spat little venomous jets of steam, then they cracked, and the white inner substance became visible. He cut them open and took the core out--the core is not fit to eat--and they were ready.

    Meanwhile, Emmeline, under his directions, had not been idle.

    There were in the lagoon--there are in several other tropical lagoons I know of--a fish which I can only describe as a golden herring. A bronze herring it looks when landed, but when swimming away down against the background of coral brains and white sand patches, it has the sheen of burnished gold. It is as good to eat as to look at, and Emmeline was carefully toasting several of them on a piece of cane.

    The juice of the fish kept the cane from charring, though there were accidents at times, when a whole fish would go into the fire, amidst shouts of derision from Dick.

    She made a pretty enough picture as she knelt, the "skirt" round the waist looking not unlike a striped bath-towel, her small face intent, and filled with the seriousness of the job on hand, and her lips puckered out at the heat of the fire.

    "It's so hot!" she cried in self-defence, after the first of the accidents.

    "Of course it's hot," said Dick, "if you stick to looward of the fire. How often has Paddy told you to keep to windward of it!"

    "I don't know which is which," confessed the unfortunate Emmeline, who was an absolute failure at everything practical: who could neither row nor fish, nor throw a stone, and who, though they had now been on the island twenty-eight months or so, could not even swim.

    "You mean to say," said Dick, "that you don't know where the wind comes from?"

    "Yes, I know that."

    "Well, that's to windward."

    "I didn't know that."

    "Well, you know it now."

    "Yes, I know it now."

    "Well, then, come to windward of the fire. Why didn't you ask the meaning of it before?"

    "I did," said Emmeline; "I asked Mr. Button one day, and he told me a lot about it. He said if he was to spit to windward and a person was to stand to loo'ard of him, he'd be a fool; and he said if a ship went too much to loo'ard she went on the rocks, but I didn't understand what he meant. Dicky, I wonder where he is?"

    "Paddy!" cried Dick, pausing in the act of splitting open a breadfruit. Echoes came from amidst the cocoa-nut trees, but nothing more.

    "Come on," said Dick; "I'm not going to wait for him. He may have gone to fetch up the night lines"--they sometimes put down night lines in the lagoon--"and fallen asleep over them."

    Now, though Emmeline honoured Mr. Button as a minor deity, Dick had no illusions at all upon the matter. He admired Paddy because he could knot, and splice, and climb a cocoanut tree, and exercise his sailor craft in other admirable ways, but he felt the old man's limitations. They ought to have had potatoes now, but they had eaten both potatoes and the possibility of potatoes when they consumed the contents of that half sack. Young as he was, Dick felt the absolute thriftlessness of this proceeding. Emmeline did not; she never thought of potatoes, though she could have told you the colour of all the birds on the island.

    Then, again, the house wanted rebuilding, and Mr. Button said every day he would set about seeing after it to-morrow, and on the morrow it would be to-morrow. The necessities of the life they led were a stimulus to the daring and active mind of the boy; but he was always being checked by the go-as-you-please methods of his elder. Dick came of the people who make sewing machines and typewriters. Mr. Button came of a people notable for ballads, tender hearts, and potheen. That was the main difference.

    "Paddy!" again cried the boy, when he had eaten as much as he wanted. "Hullo! where are you?"

    They listened, but no answer came. A bright-hued bird flew across the sand space, a lizard scuttled across the glistening sand, the reef spoke, and the wind in the tree-tops; but Mr. Button made no reply.

    "Wait," said Dick.

    He ran through the grove towards the aoa where the dinghy was moored; then he returned.

    "The dinghy is all right," he said. " Where on earth can he be?"

    "I don't know," said Emmeline, upon whose heart a feeling of loneliness had fallen.

    "Let's go up the hill," said Dick; "perhaps we'll find him there."

    They went uphill through the wood, past the water-course. Every now and then Dick would out, and echoes would answer--there were quaint, moist-voiced echoes amidst the trees or a bevy of birds would take flight. The little waterfall gurgled and whispered, and the great banana leaves spread their shade.

    "Come on," said Dick, when he had called again without receiving a reply.

    They found the hiIl-top, and the great boulder stood casting its shadow in the sun. The morning breeze was blowing, the sea sparkling, the reef flashing, the foliage of the island waving in the wind like the flames of a green-flamed torch. A deep swell was spreading itself across the bosom of the Pacific. Some hurricane away beyond the Navigators or Gilberts had sent this message and was finding its echo here, a thousand miles away, in the deeper thunder of the reef.

    Nowhere else in the world could you get such a picture, such a combination of splendour and summer, such a vision of freshness and strength, and the delight of morning. It was the smallness of the island, perhaps, that closed the charm and made it perfect. Just a bunch of foliage and flowers set in the midst of the blowing wind and sparkling blue.

    Suddenly Dick, standing beside Emmeline on the rock, pointed with his finger to the reef near the opening.

    "There he is!" cried he.


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