CHAPTER XIX  THE EXPEDITION

    Next morning the light of day filtering through the trees awakened Emmeline in the tent which they had improvised whilst the house was building. Dawn came later here than on the other side of the island which faced east later, and in a different manner for there is the difference of worlds between dawn coming over a wooded hill, and dawn coming over the sea.

    Over at the other side, sitting on the sand with the break of the reef which faced the east before you, scarcely would the east change colour before the sea-line would be on fire, the sky lit up into an illimitable void of blue, and the sunlight flooding into the lagoon, the ripples of light seeming to chase the ripples of water.

    On this side it was different. The sky would be dark and full of stars, and the woods, great spaces of velvety shadow. Then through the leaves of the artu would come a sigh, and the leaves of the breadfruit would patter, and the sound of the reef become faint. The land breeze had awakened, and in a while, as if it had blown them away, looking up, you would find the stars gone, and the sky a veil of palest blue. In this indirect approach of dawn there was something ineffably mysterious. One could see, but the things seen were indecisive and vague, just as they are in the gloaming of an English summer's day.

    Scarcely had Emmeline arisen when Dick woke also, and they went out on to the sward, and then down to the water's edge. Dick went in for a swim, and the girl, holding the baby, stood on the bank watching him.

    Always after a great storm the weather of the island would become more bracing and exhilarating, and this morning the air seemed filled with the spirit of spring. Emmeline felt it, and as she watched the swimmer disporting in the water, she laughed, and held the child up to watch him. She was fey. The breeze, filled with all sorts of sweet perfumes from the woods, blew her black hair about her shoulders, and the full light of morning coming over the palm fronds of the woods beyond the sward touched her and the child. Nature seemed caressing them.

    Dick came ashore, and then ran about to dry himself in the wind. Then he went to the dinghy and examined her; for he had determined to leave the house-building for half a day, and row round to the old place to see how the banana trees had fared during the storm. His anxiety about them was not to be wondered at. The island was his larder, and the bananas were a most valuable article of food. He had all the feelings of a careful housekeeper about them, and he could not rest till he had seen for himself the extent of damage, if damage there was any.

    He examined the boat, and then they all went back to breakfast. Living their lives, they had to use forethought. They would put away, for instance, all the shells of the cocoa-nuts they used for fuel; and you never could imagine the blazing splendour there lives in the shell of a cocoa-nut till you see it burning. Yesterday, Dick, with his usual prudence, had placed a heap of sticks, all wet with the rain of the storm, to dry in the sun: as a consequence, they had plenty of fuel to make a fire with this morning.

    When they had finished breakfast he got the knife to cut the bananas with if there were any left to cut and, taking the javelin, he went down to the boat, followed by Emmeline and the child.

    Dick had stepped into the boat, and was on the point of unmooring her, and pushing her off, when Emmeline stopped him.

    "Dick!"

    "Yes?"

    "I will go with you."

    "You!" said he in astonishment.

    "Yes, I'm--not afraid any more."

    It was a fact; since the coming of the child she had lost that dread of the other side of the island or almost lost it.

    Death is a great darkness, birth is a great light--they had intermixed in her mind; the darkness was still there, but it was no longer terrible to her, for it was infused with the light. The result was a twilight sad, but beautiful, and unpeopled with forms of fear.

    Years ago she had seen a mysterious door close and shut a human being out for ever from the world. The sight had filled her with dread unimaginable, for she had no words for the thing, no religion or philosophy to explain it away or gloss it over. Just recently she had seen an equally mysterious door open and admit a human being; and deep down in her mind, in the place where the dreams were, the one great fact had explained and justified the other. Life had vanished into the void, but life had come from there. There was life in the void, and it was no longer terrible.

    Perhaps all religions were born on a day when some woman, seated upon a rock by the prehistoric sea, looked at her newborn child and recalled to mind her man who had been slain, thus closing the charm and imprisoning the idea of a future state.

    Emmeline, with the child in her arms, stepped into the little boat and took her seat in the stern, whilst Dick pushed off. Scarcely had he put out the sculls than a new passenger arrived. It was Koko. He would often accompany them to the reef, though, strangely enough, he would never go there alone of his own accord. He made a circle or two over them, and then lit on the gunwale in the bow, and perched there, humped up, and with his long dove-coloured tail feathers presented to the water.

    The oarsman kept close in-shore, and as they rounded the little cape all gay with wild cocoa-nut the bushes brushed the boat, and the child, excited by their colour, held out his hands to them. Emmeline stretched out her hand and broke off a branch; but it was not a branch of the wild cocoa-nut she had plucked, it was a branch of the never-wake-up berries. The berries that will cause a man to sleep, should he eat of them--to sleep and dream, and never wake up again.

    "Throw them away!" cried Dick, who remembered.

    "I will in a minute," she replied.

    She was holding them up before the chiId, who was laughing and trying to grasp them. Then she forgot them, and dropped them in the bottom of the boat, for something had struck the keel with a thud, and the water was boiling all round.

    There was a savage fight going on below. In the breeding season great battles would take place sometimes in the lagoon, for fish have their jealousies just like men--love affairs, friendships. The two great forms could be dimly perceived, one in pursuit of the other, and they terrified Emmeline, who implored Dick to row on.

    They slipped by the pleasant shores that Emmeline had never seen before, having been sound asleep when they came past them those years ago.

    Just before putting off she had looked back at the beginnings of the little house under the artu tree, and as she looked at the strange glades and groves, the picture of it rose before her, and seemed to call her back.

    It was a tiny possession, but it was home; and so little used to change was she that already a sort of home-sickness was upon her; but it passed away almost as soon as it came, and she fell to wondering at the things around her, and pointing them out to the child.

    When they came to the place where Dick had hooked the albicore, he hung on his oars and told her about it. It was the first time she had heard of it; a fact which shows into what a state of savagery he had been lapsing. He had mentioned about the canoes, for he had to account for the javelin; but as for telling her of the incidents of the chase, he no more thought of doing so than a red Indian would think of detailing to his squaw the incidents of a bear hunt. Contempt for women is the first law of savagery, and perhaps the last law of some old and profound philosophy.

    She listened, and when it came to the incident of the shark, she shuddered.

    "I wish I had a hook big enough to catch him with," said he, staring into the water as if in search of his enemy.

    "Don't think of him, Dick," said Emmeline, holding the child more tightly to her heart. "Row on."

    He resumed the sculls, but you could have seen from his face that he was recounting to himself the incident.

    When they had rounded the last promontory, and the strand and the break in the reef opened before them, Emmeline caught her breath. The place had changed in some subtle manner; everything was there as before, yet everything seemed different--the lagoon seemed narrower, the reef nearer, the cocoa-palms not nearly so tall. She was contrasting the real things with the recollection of them when seen by a child. The black speck had vanished from the reef; the storm had swept it utterly away.

    Dick beached the boat on the shelving sand, and left Emmeline seated in the stern of it, whilst he went in search of the bananas; she would have accompanied him, but the child had fallen asleep.

    Hannah asleep was even a pleasanter picture than when awake. He looked like a little brown Cupid without wings, bow or arrow. He had all the grace of a curled-up feather. Sleep was always in pursuit of him, and would catch him up at the most unexpected moments--when he was at play, or indeed at any time. Emmeline would sometimes find him with a coloured shell or bit of coral that he had been playing with in his hand fast asleep, a happy expression on his face, as if his mind were pursuing its earthly avocations on some fortunate beach in dreamland.

    Dick had plucked a huge breadfruit leaf and given it to her as a shelter from the sun, and she sat holding it over her, and gazing straight before her, over the white, sunlit sands.

    The flight of the mind in reverie is not in a direct line. To her, dreaming as she sat, came all sorts of coloured pictures, recalled by the scene before her: the green water under the stern of a ship, and the word *Shenandoah* vaguely reflected on it; their landing, and the little tea-set spread out on the white sand--she could still see the pansies painted on the plates, and she counted in memory the lead spoons; the great stars that burned over the reef at nights; the Cluricaunes and fairies; the cask by the well where the convolvulus blossomed, and the wind-blown trees seen from the summit of the hill--all these pictures drifted before her, dissolving and replacing each other as they went.

    There was sadness in the contemplation of them, but pleasure too. She felt at peace with the world. All trouble seemed far behind her. It was as if the great storm that had left them unharmed had been an ambassador from the powers above to assure her of their forbearance, protection, and love.

    All at once she noticed that between the boat's bow and the sand there lay a broad, blue, sparkling line. The dinghy was afloat.


PREVIOUS  UP  NEXT