BOOK II, CHAPTER I  UNDER THE ARTU TREE

    On the edge of the green sward, between a diamond-chequered artu trunk and the massive bole of a breadfruit, a house had come into being. It was not much larger than a big hen-house, but quite sufficient for the needs of two people in a climate of eternal summer. It was built of bamboos, and thatched with a double thatch of palmetto leaves, so neatly built, and so well thatched, that one might have fancied it the production of several skilled workmen.

    The breadfruit tree was barren of fruit, as these trees sometimes are, whole groves of them ceasing to bear for some mysterious reason only known to Nature. It was green now, but when suffering its yearly change the great scalloped leaves would take all imaginable tinges of gold and bronze and amber. Beyond the artu was a little clearing, where the chapparel had been carefully removed and taro roots planted.

    Stepping from the house doorway on to the sward you might have fancied yourself, except for the tropical nature of the foliage, in some English park.

    Looking to the right, the eye became lost in the woods, where all tints of green were tinging the foliage, and the bushes of the wild cocoa-nut burned scarlet as hawberries.

    The house had a doorway, but no door. It might have been said to have a double roof, for the breadfruit foliage above gave good shelter during the rains. Inside it was bare enough. Dried, sweet-smelling ferns covered the floor. Two sails, rolled up, lay on either side of the doorway. There was a rude shelf attached to one of the walls, and on the shelf some bowls made of cocoa-nut shell. The people to whom the place belonged evidently did not trouble it much with their presence, using it only at night, and as a refuge from the dew.

    Sitting on the grass by the doorway, sheltered by the breadfruit shade, yet with the hot rays of the afternoon sun just touching her naked feet, was a girl. A girl of fifteen or sixteen, naked, except for a kilt of gaily-striped material reaching from her waist to her knees. Her long black hair was drawn back from the forehead, and tied behind with a loop of the elastic vine. A scarlet blossom was stuck behind her right ear, after the fashion of a clerk's pen. Her face was beautiful, powdered with tiny freckles; especially under the eyes, which were of a deep, tranquil blue-grey. She half sat, half lay on her left side; whilst before her, quite close, strutted up and down on the grass, a bird, with blue plumage, coral-red beak, and bright, watchful eyes.

    The girl was Emmeline Lestrange. Just by her elbow stood a little bowl made from half a cocoa-nut, and filled with some white substance with which she was feeding the bird. Dick had found it in the woods two years ago, quite small, deserted by its mother, and starving. They had fed it and tamed it, and it was now one of the family, roosting on the roof at night, and appearing regularly at meal times.

    All at once she held out her hand; the bird flew into the air, lit on her forefinger and balanced itself, sinking its head between its shoulders, and uttering the sound which formed its entire vocabulary and one means of vocal expression--a sound from which it had derived its name.

    "Koko," said Emmeline, "where is Dick?"

    The bird turned his head about, as if he were searching for his master; and the girl lay back lazily on the grass, laughing, and holding him up poised on her finger, as if he were some enamelled jewel she wished to admire at a little distance. They made a pretty picture under the cave-like shadow of the breadfruit leaves; and it was difficult to understand how this young girl, so perfectly formed, so fully developed, and so beautiful, had evolved from plain little Emmeline Lestrange. And the whole thing, as far as the beauty of her was concerned, had happened during the last six months.


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