CHAPTER XIV  HANNAH

    At noon, in the shallows of the reef, under the burning sun, the water would be quite warm. They would carry the baby down here, and Emmeline would wash it with a bit of flannel. After a few days it scarcely ever screamed, even when she washed it. It would lie on her knees during the process, striking valiantly out with its arms and legs, staring straight up at the sky. Then when she turned it on its face, it would lay its head down and chuckle, and blow bubbles at the coral of the reef, examining, apparently, the pattern of the coral with deep and philosophic attention.

    Dick would sit by with his knees up to his chin, watching it all. He felt himself to be part proprietor in the thing--as, indeed, he was. The mystery of the affair still hung over them both. A week ago they two had been alone, and suddenly from nowhere this new individual had appeared.

    It was so complete. It had hair on its head, tiny finger-nails, and hands that would grasp you. It had a whole host of little ways of its own, and every day added to them.

    In a week the extreme ugliness of the newborn child had vanished. Its face, which had seemed carved in the imitation of a monkey's face from half a brick, became the face of a happy and healthy baby. It seemed to see things, and sometimes it would laugh and chuckle as though it had been told a good joke. Its black hair all came off and was supplanted by a sort of down. It had no teeth. It would lie on its back and kick and crow, and double its fists up and try to swallow them alternately, and cross its feet and play with its toes. In fact, it was exactly like any of the thousand-and-one babies that are born into the world at every tick of the clock.

    "What will we call it?" said Dick one day, as he sat watching his son and heir crawling about on the grass under the shade of the breadfruit leaves.

    "Hannah," said Emmeline promptly.

    The recollection of another baby once heard about was in her mind, and it was as good a name as any other, perhaps, in that lonely place, notwithstanding the fact that Hannah was a boy.

    Koko took a vast interest in the new arrival. He would hop round it and peer at it with his head on one side; and Hannah would crawl after the bird and try to grab it by the tail. In a few months so valiant and strong did he become that he would pursue his own father, crawling behind him on the grass, and you might have seen the mother and father and child playing all together like three children, the bird sometimes hovering overhead like a good spirit, sometimes joining in the fun.

    Sometimes Emmeline would sit and brood over the child, a troubled expression on her face and a far-away look in her eyes. The old vague fear of mischance had returned--the dread of that viewless form her imagination half pictured behind the smile on the face of Nature. Her happiness was so great that she dreaded to lose it.

    There is nothing more wonderful than the birth of a man, and all that goes to bring it about. Here, on this island, in the very heart of the sea, amidst the sunshine and the wind-blown trees, under the great blue arch of the sky, in perfect purity of thought, they would discuss the question from beginning to end without a blush, the object of their discussion crawling before them on the grass, and attempting to grab feathers from Koko's tail.

    It was the loneliness of the place as well as their ignorance of life that made the old, old miracle appear so strange and fresh--as beautiful as the miracle of death had appeared awful. In thoughts vague and beyond expression in words, they linked this new occurrence with that old occurrence on the reef six years before. The vanishing and the coming of a man.

    Hannah, despite his unfortunate name, was certainly a most virile and engaging baby. The black hair which had appeared and vanished like some practical joke played by Nature, gave place to a down at first as yellow as sun-bleached wheat, but in a few months' time tinged with auburn.

    One day--he had been uneasy and biting at his thumbs for some time past--Emmeline, looking into his mouth, saw something white and like a grain of rice protruding from his gum. It was a tooth just born. He could eat bananas now, and breadfruit, and they often fed him on fish--a fact which again might have caused a medical man to shudder; yet he throve on it all, and waxed stouter every day.

    Emmeline, with a profound and natural wisdom, let him crawl about stark naked, dressed in ozone and sunlight. Taking him out on the reef, she would let him paddle in the shallow pools, holding him under the armpits whilst he splashed the diamond-bright water into spray with his feet, and laughed and shouted.

    They were beginning now to experience a phenomenon, as wonderful as the birth of the child's body--the birth of his intelligence, the peeping out of a little personality with predilections of its own, likes and dislikes.

    He knew Dick from Emmeline; and when Emmeline had satisfied his material wants, he would hold out his arms to go to Dick if he were by. He looked upon Koko as a friend, but when a friend of Koko's--a bird with an inquisitive mind and three red feathers in his tail--dropped in one day to inspect the newcomer, he resented the intrusion, and screamed.

    He had a passion for flowers, or anything bright. He would laugh and shout when taken on the lagoon in the dinghy, and make as if to jump into the water to get at the bright coloured corals below.

    Ah me, we laugh at young mothers, and all the miraculous things they tell us about their babies! They see what we cannot see: the first unfolding of that mysterious flower, the mind.

    One day they were out on the lagoon. Dick had been rowing; he had ceased, and was letting the boat drift for a bit. Emmeline was dancing the child on her knee, when it suddenly held out its arms to the oarsman and said:

    "Dick!"

    The little word, so often heard and easily repeated, was its first word on earth.

    A voice that had never spoken in the world before had spoken; and to hear his name thus mysteriously uttered by a being he has created is the sweetest and perhaps the saddest thing a man can ever know.

    Dick took the child on his knee, and from that moment his love for it was more than his love for Emmeline or anything else on earth.


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