CHAPTER XXI  THE GARLAND OF FLOWERS

    You could just make the figure out lying on the reef near the little cask, and comfortably sheltered from the sun by an upstanding lump of coral.

    "He's asleep," said Dick.

    He had not thought to look towards the reef from the beach, or he might have seen the figure before.

    "Dicky!" said Emmeline.

    "Well?"

    "How did he get over, if you said the dinghy was tied to the tree?"

    "I don't know," said Dick, who had not thought of this; "there he is, anyhow. I'll tell you what, Em, we'll row across and wake him. I'll boo into his ear and make him jump."

    They got down from the rock, and came back down through the wood. As they came Emmeline picked flowers and began making them up into one of her wreaths. Some scarlet hibiscus, some bluebells, a couple of pale poppies with furry stalks and bitter perfume.

    "What are you making that for?" asked Dick, who always viewed Emmeline's wreath-making with a mixture of compassion and vague disgust.

    "I'm going to put it on Mr. Button's head," said Emmeline; "so's when you say boo into his ear he'll jump up with it on."

    Dick chuckled with pleasure at the idea of the practical joke, and almost admitted in his own mind for a moment, that after all there might be a use for such futilities as wreaths.

    The dinghy was moored under the spreading shade of the aoa, the painter tied to one of the branches that projected over the water. These dwarf aoas branch in an extraordinary way close to the ground, throwing out limbs like rails. The tree had made a good protection for the little boat, protecting it from marauding hands and from the sun; besides the protection of the tree Paddy had now and then scuttled the boat in shallow water. It was a new boat to start with, and with precautions like these might be expected to last many years.

    "Get in," said Dick, pulling on the painter so that the bow of the dinghy came close to the beach.

    Emmeline got carefully in, and went aft. Then Dick got in, pushed off, and took to the sculls. Next moment they were out on the sparkling water.

    Dick rowed cautiously, fearing to wake the sleeper. He fastened the painter to the coral spike that seemed set there by nature for the purpose. He scrambled on to the reef, and lying down on his stomach drew the boat's gunwale close up so that Emmeline might land. He had no boots on; the soles of his feet, from constant exposure, had become insensitive as leather.

    Emmeline also was without boots. The soles of her feet, as is always the case with highly nervous people, were sensitive, and she walked delicately, avoiding the worst places, holding her wreath in her right hand.

    It was full tide, and the thunder of the waves outside shook the reef. It was like being in a church when the deep bass of the organ is turned full on, shaking the ground and the air, the walls and the roof. Dashes of spray came over with the wind, and the melancholy "Hi, hi!" of the wheeling gulls came like the voices of ghostly sailor-men hauling at the halyards.

    Paddy was lying on his right side steeped in profound oblivion. His face was buried in the crook of his right arm, and his brown tattooed left hand lay on his left thigh, palm upwards. He had no hat, and the breeze stirred his grizzled hair.

    Dick and Emmeline stole up to him till they got right beside him. Then Emmeline, flashing out a laugh, flung the little wreath of flowers on the old man's head, and Dick, popping down on his knees, shouted into his ear. But the dreamer did not stir or move a finger.

    "Paddy," cried Dick, "wake up! wake upI"

    He pulled at the shoulder till the figure from its sideways posture fell over on its back. The eyes were wide open and staring. The mouth hung open, and from the mouth darted a little crab; it scuttled over the chin and dropped on the coral.

    Emmeline screamed, and screamed, and would have fallen, but the boy caught her in his arms one side of the face had been destroyed by the larvae of the rocks.

    He held her to him as he stared at the terrible figure lying upon its back, hands outspread. Then, wild with terror, he dragged her towards the little boat. She was struggling, and panting and gasping, like a person drowning in ice-cold water.

    His one instinct was to escape, to fly anywhere, no matter where. He dragged the girl to the coral edge, and pulled the boat up close. Had the reef suddenly become enveloped in flames he could not have exerted himself more to escape from it and save his companion. A moment later they were afloat, and he was pulling wildly for the shore.

    He did not know what had happened, nor did he pause to think: he was fleeing from horror--nameless horror; whilst the child at his feet, with her head resting against the gunwale, stared up open-eyed and speechless at the great blue sky, as if at some terror visible there. The boat grounded on the white sand, and the wash of the incoming tide drove it up sideways.

    Emmeline had fallen forward; she had lost consciousness.


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