CHAPTER XV  THE LAGOON OF FIRE

    Ever since the tragedy of six years ago there had been forming in the mind of Emmeline Lestrange a something - shall I call it a deep mistrust? She had never been clever; lessons had saddened and wearied her, without making her much the wiser. Yet her mind was of that order into which profound truths come by short-cuts. She was intuitive.

    Great knowledge may lurk in the human mind without the owner of the mind being aware. He or she acts in such or such a way, or thinks in such and such a manner from intuition; in other words, as the outcome of the profoundest reasoning.

    When we have learnt to call storms, storms, and death, death, and birth, birth, when we have mastered the sailor's horn-book, and Mr. Piddington's law of cyclones, Ellis's anatomy, and Lewer's midwifery, we have already made ourself half blind. We have become hypnotized by words and names. We think in words and names, not in ideas; the commonplace has triumphed, the true intellect is half crushed.

    Storms had burst over the island before this. And what Emmeline remembered of them might be expressed by an instance.

    The morning would be bright and happy, never so bright the sun, or so balmy the breeze, or so peaceful the blue lagoon; then, with a horrid suddenness, as if sick with dissimulation and mad to show itself, something would blacken the sun, and with a yell stretch out a hand and ravage the island, churn the lagoon into foam, beat down the coconut trees, and slay the birds. And one bird would be left and another taken, one tree destroyed and another left standing. The fury of the thing was less fearful than the blindness of it, and the indifference of it.

    One night, when the child was asleep, just after the last star was lit, Dick appeared at the doorway of the house. He had been down to the water's edge and had now returned. He beckoned Emmeline to follow him, and, putting down the child, she did so.

    "Come here and look," said he.

    He led the way to the water; and as they approached it Emmeline became aware that there was something strange about the lagoon. From a distance it looked pale and solid; it might have been a great stretch of grey marble veined with black. Then, as she drew nearer, she saw that the dull grey appearance was a deception of the eye.

    The lagoon was alight and burning.

    The phosphoric fire was in its very heart and being; every coral branch was a torch, every fish a passing lantern. The incoming tide moving the waters made the whole glittering floor of the lagoon move and shiver, and the tiny waves to lap the bank, leaving behind them glow-worm traces.

    "Look!" said Dick.

    He knelt down and plunged his forearm into the water. The immersed part burned like a smouldering torch. Emmeline could see it as plainly as though it were lit by sunlight. Then he drew his arm out, and as far as the water had reached, it was covered by a glowing glove.

    They had seen the phosphorescence of the lagoon before; indeed, any night you might watch the passing fish like bars of silver, when the moon was away; but this was something quite new, and it was entrancing.

    Emmeline knelt down and dabbled her hands, and made herself a pair of phosphoric gloves, and cried out with pleasure, and laughed. It was all the pleasure of playing with fire without the danger of being burnt. Then Dick rubbed his face with the water till it glowed.

    "Wait!" he cried; and, running up to the house, he fetched out Hannah.

    He came running down with him to the water's edge, gave Emmeline the child, unmoored the boat, and started out from shore.

    The sculls, as far as they were immersed, were like bars of glistening silver; under them passed the fish, leaving cometic tails; each coral clump was a lamp, lending its lustre till the great lagoon was luminous as a lit-up ballroom. Even the child on Emmeline's lap crowed and cried out at the strangeness of the sight.

    They landed on the reef and wandered over the flat. The sea was white and bright as snow, and the foam looked like a hedge of fire.

    As they stood gazing on this extraordinary sight, suddenly, almost as instantaneously as the switching off of an electric light, the phosphorescence of the sea flickered and vanished.

    The moon was rising. Her crest was just breaking from the water, and as her face came slowly into view behind a belt of vapour that lay on the horizon, it looked fierce and red, stained with smoke like the face of Eblis.


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