CHAPTER XXII  ALONE

    The idea of spiritual life must be innate in the heart of man, for all that terrible night, when the children lay huddled together in the little hut in the chapparel, the fear that filled them was that their old friend might suddenly darken the entrance and seek to lie down beside them.

    They did not speak about him. Something had been done to him; something had happened. Something terrible had happened to the world they knew. But they dared not speak of it or question each other.

    Dick had carried his companion to the hut when he left the boat, and hidden with her there; the evening had come on, and the night, and now in the darkness, without having tasted food all day, he was telling her not to be afraid, that he would take care of her. But not a word of the thing that had happened.

    The thing, for them, had no precedent, and no vocabulary. They had come across death raw and real, uncooked by religion, undeodorised by the sayings of sages and poets.

    They knew nothing of the philosophy that tells us that death is the common lot, and the natural sequence to birth, or the religion that teaches us that Death is the door to Life.

    A dead old sailor-man lying like a festering carcass on a coral ledge, eyes staring and glazed and fixed, a wide-open mouth that once had spoken comforting words, and now spoke living crabs.

    That was the vision before them. They did not philosophise about it; and though they were filled with terror, I do not think it was terror that held them from speaking about it, but a vague feeling that what they had beheld was obscene, unspeakable, and a thing to avoid.

    Lestrange had brought them up in his own way. He had told them there was a good God who looked after the world; determined as far as he could to exclude demonology and sin and death from their knowledge, he had rested content with the bald statement that there was a good God who looked after the world, without explaining fully that the same God would torture them for ever and ever, should they fail to believe in Him or keep His commandments.

    This knowledge of the Almighty, therefore, was but a half knowledge, the vaguest abstraction. Had they been brought up, however, in the most strictly Calvinistic school, this knowledge of Him would have been no comfort now. Belief in God is no comfort to a frightened child. Teach him as many parrot-like prayers as you please, and in distress or the dark of what use are they to him? His cry is for his nurse, or his mother.

    During that dreadful night these two children had no comfort to seek anywhere in the whole wide universe but in each other. She, in a sense of his protection, he, in a sense of being her protector. The manliness in him greater and more beautiful than physical strength, developed in those dark hours just as a plant under extraordinary circumstances is hurried into bloom.

    Towards dawn Emmeline fell asleep. Dick stole out of the hut when he had assured himself from her regular breathing that she was asleep, and, pushing the tendrils and the branches of the mammee apples aside, found the beach. The dawn was just breaking, and the morning breeze was coming in from the sea.

    When he had beached the dinghy the day before, the tide was just at the flood, and it had left her stranded. The tide was coming in now, and in a short time it would be far enough up to push her off.

    Emmeline in the night had implored him to take her away. Take her away somewhere from there, and he had promised, without knowing in the least how he was to perform his promise. As he stood looking at the beach, so desolate and strangely different now from what it was the day before, an idea of how he could fulfil his promise came to him. He ran down to where the little boat lay on the shelving sand, with the ripples of the incoming tide just washing the rudder, which was still shipped. He unshipped the rudder and came back.

    Under a tree, covered with the stay-sail they had brought from the *Shenandoah*, lay most of their treasures: old clothes and boots, and all the other odds and ends. The precious tobacco stitched up in a piece of canvas was there, and the housewife with the needles and threads. A hole had been dug in the sand as a sort of cache for them, and the stay-sail put over them to protect them from the dew.

    The sun was now looking over the sealine, and the tall cocoa-nut trees were singing and whispering together under the strengthening breeze.


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