Part 5 out of 5
"I don't think you do. This is something quite strange. I am fifty,
and in fifty years a man has experienced, as a rule, all the
ordinary and most of the extraordinary sensations that a human
being can be subjected to. Well, I have never felt this sensation
before; it comes on only at times. I see, as you might imagine, a
young baby sees, and things are before me that I do not
comprehend. It is not through my bodily eyes that this sensation
comes, but through some window of the mind, from before which
a curtain has been drawn."
"That's strange," said Stannistreet, who did not like the
conversation over-much, being simply a schooner captain and a
plain man, though intelligent enough and sympathetic.
"This something tells me," went on Lestrange, "that there is
danger threatening the--" He ceased, paused a minute, and then,
to Stannistreet's relief, went on. "If I talk like that you will think
I am not right in my head: let us pass the subject by, let us forget
dreams and omens and come to realities. You know how I lost the
children; you know how I hope to find them at the place where
Captain Fountain found their traces? He says the island was
uninhabited, but he was not sure."
"No," replied Stannistreet, "he only spoke of the beach."
"Yes. Well, suppose there were natives at the other side of the
island who had taken these children."
"If so, they would grow up with the natives."
"And become savages?"
"Yes; but the Polynesians can't be really called savages; they are
a very decent lot I've knocked about amongst them a good while,
and a kanaka is as white as a white man--which is not saying
much, but it's something. Most of the islands are civilised now. Of
course there are a few that aren't, but still, suppose even that
`savages,' as you call them, had come and taken the children off--"
Lestrange's breath caught, for this was the very fear that was in
his heart, though he had never spoken it.
"Well, they would be well treated."
"And brought up as savages?"
"I suppose so."
"Look here," said the captain; "it's all very well talking, but upon
my word I think that we civilised folk put on a lot of airs, and
waste a lot of pity on savages."
"What does a man want to be but happy?"
"Well, who is happier than a naked savage in a warm climate? Oh,
he's happy enough, and he's not always holding a corroboree. He's
a good deal of a gentleman; he has perfect health; he lives the life
a man was born to live--face to face with Nature. He doesn't see
the sun through an office window or the moon through the smoke
of factory chimneys; happy and civilised too but, bless you, where
is he? The whites have driven him out; in one or two small
islands you may find him still--a crumb or so of him."
"Suppose," said Lestrange, "suppose those children had been
brought up face to face with Nature--"
"Living that free life--"
"Waking up under the stars"--Lestrange was speaking with his
eyes fixed, as if upon something very far away--"going to sleep
as the sun sets, feeling the air fresh, like this which blows upon
us, all around them. Suppose they were like that, would it not be a
cruelty to bring them to what we call civilisation?"
"I think it would," said Stannistreet.
Lestrange said nothing, but continued pacing the deck, his head
bowed and his hands behind his back.
One evening at sunset, Stannistreet said:
"We're two hundred and forty miles from the island, reckoning
from to-day's reckoning at noon. We're going all ten knots even
with this breeze; we ought to fetch the place this time to-
morrow. Before that if it freshens."
"I am greatly disturbed," said Lestrange.
He went below, and the schooner captain shook his head, and,
locking his arm round a ratlin, gave his body to the gentle roll of
the craft as she stole along, skirting the sunset, splendid, and to
the nautical eye full of fine weather.
The breeze was not quite so fresh next morning, but it had been
blowing fairly all the night, and the Raratonga had made good
way. About eleven it began to fail. It became the lightest sailing
breeze, just sufficient to keep the sails drawing, and the wake
rippling and swirling behind. Suddenly Stannistreet, who had been
standing talking to Lestrange, climbed a few feet up the mizzen
ratlins, and shaded his eyes.
"What is it?" asked Lestrange.
"A boat," he replied. "Hand me that glass you will find in the sling
He levelled the glass, and looked for a long time without speaking.
"It's a boat adrift--a small boat, nothing in her. Stay! I see
something white, can't make it out. Hi there!"--to the fellow at
the wheel. "Keep her a point more to starboard." He got on to the
deck. "We're going dead on for her."
"Is there any one in her?" asked Lestrange.
"Can't quite make out, but I'll lower the whale-boat and fetch her
He gave orders for the whale-boat to be slung out and manned.
As they approached nearer, it was evident that the drifting boat,
which looked like a ship's dinghy, contained something, but what,
could not be made out.
When he had approached near enough, Stannistreet put the helm
down and brought the schooner to, with her sails all shivering. He
took his place in the bow of the whale-boat and Lestrange in the
stern. The boat was lowered, the falls cast off, and the oars bent
to the water.
The little dinghy made a mournful picture as she floated, looking
scarcely bigger than a walnut shell. In thirty strokes the whale-
boat's nose was touching her quarter. Stannistreet grasped her
In the bottom of the dinghy lay a girl, naked all but for a strip of
coloured striped material. One of her arms was clasped round the
neck of a form that was half hidden by her body, the other clasped
partly to herself, partly to her companion, the body of a baby.
They were natives, evidently, wrecked or lost by some mischance
from some inter-island schooner. Their breasts rose and fell
gently, and clasped in the girl's hand was a branch of some tree,
and on the branch a single withered berry.
"Are they dead?" asked Lestrange, who divined that there were
people in the boat, and who was standing up in the stern of the
whale-boat trying to see.
"No," said Stannistreet; "they are asleep."