CHAPTER XII  THE VANISHING OF EMMELINE (continued)

    He dropped the line, and turned with a start. There was no one visible. He ran amongst the trees calling out her name, but only echoes answered. Then he came back to the lagoon edge.

    He felt sure that what he had heard was only fancy, but it was nearly sunset, and more than time to be off. He pulled in his line, wrapped it up, took his fish-spear and started.

    It was just in the middle of the bad place that dread came to him. What if anything had happened to her? It was dusk here, and never had the weeds seemed so thick, dimness so dismal, the tendrils of the vines so gin-like. Then he lost his way--he who was so sure of his way always! The hunter's instinct had been crossed, and for a time he went hither and thither helpless as a ship without a compass. At last he broke into the real wood, but far to the right of where he ought to have been. He felt like a beast escaped from a trap, and hurried along, led by the sound of the surf.

    When he reached the clear sward that led down to the lagoon the sun had just vanished beyond the sea-line. A streak of red cloud floated like the feather of a flamingo in the western sky close to the sea, and twilight had already filled the world. He could see the house dimly, under the shadow of the trees, and he ran towards it, crossing the sward diagonally.

    Always before, when he had been away, the first thing to greet his eyes on his return had been the figure of Emmeline. Either at the lagoon edge or the house door he would find her waiting form him.

    She was not waiting for him to-night. When he reached the house she was not there, and he paused, after searching tghe place, a prey to the most horrible perplexity, and unable for the moment to think or act.

    Since the shock of the occurrence on the reef she had been subjeccted at times to occasional attacks of headache;and when the pain was more than she could bear she would go off and hide. Dick would hunt for her amidst the trees, calling out her name and hallooing. A faint "halloo" would answer when she heard him, and then he would find her under a tree or bush, with her unfortunate head between her hands, a picture of misery.

    He remembered this now, and started off along the borders of the wood, calling to her, and pausing to listen. No answer came.

    He searched amidst the trees as far as the little well, waking the echoes with his voice; then he came back slowly, peering about him in the deep dusk that now was yielding to the starlight. He sat down before the door of the house, and, looking at him, you might have fancied him in the last stages of exhaustion. Profound grief and profound exhaustion act on the frame very much in the same way. He sat with his chin resting on his chest, his hands helpless. He could hear her voice, still as he heard it over at the other side of the island. She had been in danger and called to him, and he had been calmly fishing, unconscious of it all.

    This thought maddened him. He sat up, stared around him and beat the ground with the palms of his hands; then he sprang to his feet and made for the dinghy. He rowed to the reef: the action of a madman, for she could not possibly be there.

    There was no moon, the starlight both lit and veiled the world, and no sound but the majestic thunder of the waves. As he stood, the night wind blowing on his face, the white foam seething before him, and Canopus burning in the great silence overhead, the fact that he stood in the centre of an awful and profound indifference came to his untutored mind with a pang.

    He returned to the shore: the house was still deserted. A little bowl made from the shell of a cocoa-nut stood on the grass near the doorway. He had last seen it in her hands, and he took it up and held it for a moment, pressing it tightIy to his breast. Then he threw himself down before the doorway, and lay upon his face, with head resting upon his arms in the attitude of a person who is profoundly asleep.

    He must have searched through the woods again that night just as a somnambulist searches, for he found himself towards dawn in the valley before the idol. Then it was daybreak--the world was full of light and colour. He was seated before the house door, worn out and exhausted, when, raising his head, he saw Emmeline's figure coming out from amidst the distant trees on the other side of the sward.


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