CHAPTER XVII  THE STRICKEN WOODS

    At first they thought they were ruined; then Dick, searching, found the old saw under a tree, and the butcher's knife near it, as though the knife and saw had been trying to escape in company and had failed.

    Bit by bit they began to recover something of their scattered property. The remains of the flannel had been taken by the cyclone and wrapped round and round a slender cocoa-nut tree, till the trunk looked like a gailybandaged leg. The box of fish-hooks had been jammed into the centre of a cooked breadfruit, both having been picked up by the fingers of the wind and hurled against the same tree; and the stay-sail of the *Shenandoah* was out on the reef, with a piece of coral carefully placed on it as if to keep it down. As for the lug-sail belonging to the dinghy, it was never seen again.

    There is humour sometimes in a cyclone, if you can only appreciate it; no other form of air disturbance produces such quaint effects. Beside the great main whirlpool of wind, there are subsidiary whirlpools, each actuated by its own special imp.

    Emmeline had felt Hannah nearly snatched from her arms twice by these little ferocious gimlet winds; and that the whole business of the great storm was set about with the object of snatching Hannah from her, and blowing him out to sea, was a belief which she held, perhaps, in the innermost recesses of her mind.

    The dinghy would have been utterly destroyed, had it not heeled over and sunk in shallow water at the first onset of the wind; as it was, Dick was able to bail it out at the next low tide, when it floated as bravely as ever, not having started a single seam.

    But the destruction amidst the trees was pitiful. Looking at the woods as a mass, one noticed gaps here and there, but what had really happened could not be seen till one was amongst the trees. Great, beautiful cocoa-nut palms, not dead, but just dying, lay crushed and broken as if trampled upon by some enormous foot. You would come across half a dozen lianas twisted into one great cable. Where cocoa-nut palms were, you could not move a yard without kicking against a fallen nut; you might have picked up fullgrown, half-grown, and wee baby nuts, not bigger than small apples, for on the same tree you will find nuts of all sizes and conditions.

    One never sees a perfectly straight-stemmed cocoa-palm; they all have an inclination from the perpendicular more or less; perhaps that is why a cyclone has more effect on them than on other trees.

    Artus, once so pretty a picture with their diamond-chequered trunks, lay broken and ruined; and right through the belt of mammee apple, right through the bad lands, lay a broad road, as if an army, horse, foot, and artillery, had passed that way from lagoon edge to lagoon edge. This was the path left by the great fore-foot of the storm; but had you searched the woods on either side, you would have found paths where the lesser winds had been at work, where the baby whirlwinds had been at play.

    From the bruised woods, like an incense offered to heaven, rose a perfume of blossoms gathered and scattered, of rain-wet leaves, of lianas twisted and broken and oozing their sap; the perfume of newly-wrecked and ruined trees--the essence and soul of the artu, the banyan and cocoa-palm cast upon the wind.

    You would have found dead butterflies in the woods, dead birds too; but in the great path of the storm you would have found dead butterflies' wings, feathers, leaves frayed as if by fingers, branches of the aoa, and sticks of the hibiscus broken into little fragments.

    Powerful enough to rip a ship open, root up a tree, half ruin a city. Delicate enough to tear a butterfly wing from wing--that is a cyclone.

    Emmeline, wandering about in the woods with Dick on the day after the storm, looking at the ruin of great tree and little bird, and recollecting the land birds she had caught a glimpse of yesterday being carried along safely by the storm out to sea to be drowned, felt a great weight lifting from her heart. Mischance had come, and spared them and the baby. The blue had spoken, but had not called them.

    She felt that something--the something which we in civilisation call Fate--was for the present gorged; and, without being annihilated, her incessant hypochondriacal dread condensed itself into a point, leaving her horizon sunlit and clear.

    The cyclone had indeed treated them almost, one might say, amiably. It had taken the house but that was a small matter, for it had left them nearly all their small possessions. The tinder box and flint and steel would have been a much more serious loss than a dozen houses, for, without it, they would have had absolutely no means of making a fire.

    If anything, the cyclone had been almost too kind to them; had let them pay off too little of that mysterious debt they owed to the gods.


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