Months passed away. Only one bird remained in the branches of the artu: Koko's children and mate had vanished, but he remained. The breadfruit leaves had turned from green to pale gold and darkest amber, and now the new green leaves were being presented to the spring.
Dick, who had a complete chart of the lagoon in his head, and knew all the soundings and best fishing places, the locality of the stinging coral, and the places where you could wade right across at low tide--Dick, one morning, was gathering his things together for a fishing expedition. The place he was going to lay some two and a half miles away across the island, and as the road was bad he was going alone.
Emmeline had been passing a new thread through the beads of the necklace she sometimes wore. This necklace had a history. In the shallows not far away, Dick had found a bed of shell-fish; wading out at low tide, he had taken some of them out to examine. They were oysters. The first one he opened, so disgusting did its appearance seem to him, might have been the last, only that under the beard of the thing lay a pearl. It was about twice the size of a large pea, and so lustrous that even he could not but admire its beauty, though quite unconscious of its value.
He flung the unopened oysters down, and took the thing to Emmeline. Next day, returning by chance to the same spot, he found the oysters he had cast down all dead and open in the sun. He examined them, and found another pearl embedded in one of them. Then he collected nearly a bushel of the oysters, and left them to die and open. The idea had occurred to him of making a necklace for his companion. She had one made of shells, he intended to make her one of pearls.
It took a long time, but it was something to do. He pierced them with a big needle, and at the end of four months or so the thing was complete. Great pearls most of them were- pure white, black, pink, some perfectly round, some tear shaped, some irregular. The thing was worth fifteen, or perhaps twenty thousand pounds, for he only used the biggest he could find, casting away the small ones as useless.
Emmeline this morning had just finished restringing them on a double thread. She looked pale and not at all well and had been restless all night.
As he went off, armed with his spear and fishing tackle, she waved her hand to him without getting up. Usually she followed him a bit into the wood when he was going away like this, but this morning she just sat at the doorway of the little house, the necklace in her lap, following him with her eyes until he was lost amidst the trees.
He had no compass to guide him, and he needed none. He knew the woods by heart. The mysterious line beyond which scarcely an artu tree was to be found. The long strip of mammee apple--a regular sheet of it a hundred yards broad, and reaching from the middle of the island right down to the lagoon. The clearings, some almost circular where the ferns grew knee-deep. Then he came to the bad part.
The vegetation here had burst into a riot. All sorts of great sappy stalks of unknown plants barred the way and tangled the foot; and there were boggy places into which one sank horribly. Pausing to wipe one's brow, the stalks and tendrils one had beaten down, or beaten aside, rose up and closed together, making one a prisoner almost as closely surrounded as a fly in amber.
All the noontides that had ever fallen upon the island seemed to have left some of their heat behind them here. The air was damp and close like the air of a laundry; and the mournful and perpetual buzz of insects filled the silence without destroying it.
A hundred men with scythes might make a road through the place to-day; a month or two later, searching for the road, you would find none--the vegetation would have closed in as water closes when divided.
This was the haunt of the jug orchid--a veritable jug, lid and all. Raising the lid you would find the jug half filled with water. Sometimes in the tangle up above, between two trees, you would see a thing like a bird come to ruin. Orchids grew here as in a hothouse. All the trees--the few there were--had a spectral and miserable appearance. They were half starved by the voluptuous growth of the gigantic weeds.
If one had much imagination one felt afraid in this place, for one felt not alone. At any moment it seemed that one might be touched on the elbow by a hand reaching out from the surrounding tangle. Even Dick felt this, unimaginative and fearless as he was. It took him nearly three-quarters of an hour to get through, and then, at last, came the bIessed air of real day, and a glimpse of the lagoon between the tree-boles.
He would have rowed round in the dinghy, only that at low tide the shallows of the north of the island were a bar to the boat's passage. Of course he might have rowed all the way round by way of the strand and reef entrance, but that would have meant a circuit of six miles or more. When he came between the trees down to the lagoon edge it was about eleven o'clock in the morning, and the tide was nearly at the full.
The lagoon just here was like a trough, and the reef was very near, scarcely a quarter of a mile from the shore. The water did not shelve, it went down sheer fifty fathoms or more, and one could fish from the bank just as from a pier head. He had brought some food with him, and he placed it under a tree whilst he prepared his line, which had a lump of coral for a sinker. He baited the hook, and whirling the sinker round in the air sent it flying out a hundred feet from shore. There was a baby cocoa-nut tree growing just at the edge of the water. He fastened the end of his line round the narrow stem, in case of eventualities, and then, holding the line itself, he fished.
He had promised Emmeline to return before sundown.
He was a fisherman. That is to say, a creature with the enduring patience of a cat, tireless and heedless of time as an oyster. He came here for sport more than for fish. Large things were to be found in this part of the lagoon. The last time he had hooked a horror in the form of a cat-fish; at least in outward appearance it was likest to a Mississippi cat-fish. Unlike the cat-fish, it was coarse and useless as food, but it gave good sport.
The tide was now going out, and it was at the going-out of the tide that the best fishing was to be had. There was no wind, and the lagoon lay like a sheet of glass, with just a dimple here and there where the outgoing tide made a swirl in the water.
As he fished he thought of Emmeline and the little house under the trees. Scarcely one could call it thinking. Pictures passed before his mind's eye--pleasant and happy pictures, sunlit, moonlit, starlit.
Three hours passed thus without a bite or symptom that the lagoon contained anything else but sea-water, and disappointment; but he did not grumble. He was a fisherman. Then he left the line tied to the tree and sat down to eat the food he had brought with him. He had scarcely finished his meal when the baby cocoa-nut tree shivered and became convulsed, and he did not require to touch the taut line to know that it was useless to attempt to cope with the thing at the end of it. The only course was to let it tug and drown itself. So he sat down and watched.
After a few minutes the line slackened, and the little cocoa-nut tree resumed its attitude of pensive meditation and repose. He pulled the line up: there was nothing at the end of it but a hook. He did not grumble; he baited the hook again, and flung it in, for it was quite likely that the ferocious thing in the water would bite again.
Full of this idea and heedless of time he fished and waited. The sun was sinking into the west--he did not heed it. He had quite forgotten that he had promised Emmeline to return before sunset; it was nearly sunset now. Suddenly, just behind him, from among the trees, he heard her voice, crying: