CHAPTER XVIII  A FALLEN IDOL

    The next day Dick began to rebuild the house. He had fetched the stay-sail from the reef and rigged up a temporary tent.

    It was a great business cutting the canes and dragging them out in the open. Emmeline helped; whilst Hannah, seated on the grass, played with the bird that had vanished during the storm, but reappeared the evening after.

    The child and the bird had grown fast friends; they were friendly enough even at first, but now the bird would sometimes let the tiny hands clasp him right round his body--at least, as far as the hands would go.

    It is a rare experience for a man to hold a tame and unstruggling and unfrightened bird in his hands; next to pressing a woman in his arms, it is the pleasantest tactile sensation he will ever experience, perhaps, in life. He will feel a desire to press it to his heart, if he has such a thing.

    Hannah would press Koko to his little brown stomach, as if in artless admission of where his heart lay.

    He was an extraordinarily bright and intelligent child. He did not promise to be talkative, for, having achieved the word "Dick," he rested content for a long while before advancing further into the labyrinth of language; but though he did not use his tongue, he spoke in a host of other ways. With his eyes, that were as bright as Koko's, and full of all sorts of mischief; with his hands and feet and the movements of his body. He had a way of shaking his hands before him when highly delighted, a way of expressing nearly all the shades of pleasure; and though he rarely expressed anger, when he did so, he expressed it fully.

    He was just now passing over the frontier into toyland. In civilisation he would no doubt have been the possessor of an india-rubber dog or a woolly lamb, but there were no toys here at all. Emmeline's old doll had been left behind when they took flight from the other side of the island, and Dick, a year or so ago, on one of his expeditions, had found it lying half buried in the sand of the beach.

    He had brought it back now more as a curiosity than anything else, and they had kept it on the shelf in the house. The cyclone had impaled it on a tree-twig near by, if in derision; and Hannah, when it was presented to him as a plaything, flung it away from him as if in disgust. But he would play with flowers or bright shells, or bits of coral, making vague patterns with them on the sward.

    All the toy lambs in the world would not have pleased him better than those things, the toys of the Troglodyte children--the children of the Stone Age. To clap two oyster shells together and make a noise--what, after all, could a baby want better than that?

    One afternoon, when the house was beginning to take some sort of form, they ceased work and went off into the woods; Emmeline carrying the baby and Dick taking turns with him. They were going to the valley of the idol.

    Since the coming of Hannah, and even before, the stone figure standing in its awful and mysterious solitude had ceased to be an object of dread to Emmeline, and had become a thing vaguely benevolent. Love had come to her under its shade; and under its shade the spirit of the child had entered into her from where, who knows? But certainly through heaven.

    Perhaps the thing which had been the god of some unknown people had inspired her with the instinct of religion; if so, she was his last worshipper on earth, for when they entered the valley they found him lying upon his face. Great blocks of stone lay around him: there had evidently been a landslip, a catastrophe preparing for ages, and determined, perhaps, by the torrential rain of the cyclone.

    In Ponape, Huahine, in Easter Island, you may see great idols that have been felled like this, temples slowly dissolving from sight, and terraces, seemingly as solid as the hills, turning softly and subtly into shapeless mounds of stone.


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