Derrick Beekman was astonished beyond measure at the apparition which flashed in view so suddenly far above his head and had almost immediately disappeared. So far as he had been able to view the island, he had not before discovered the slightest evidence of humanity. Indeed, the whole deep cup of the bay was so desolate and forbidding that it had not prepared him for human beings, scarcely for life, even. If he had not yet thought about it at all, he had, nevertheless, a subconsciousness that this was probably a bare and arid rock, volcanic in origin, which the busy little toilers of the sea had surrounded with a coral reef.
He came to believe afterward that this idea was correct, and that the deep bay represented one of the craters of the volcano, one side of which had been riven, by what cause he could not determine, giving access to the ocean. In his terribly weak condition, for when he had slaked his thirst, he was more acutely conscious of his hunger, not to say his starvation, than before, he could only reflect vaguely upon these matters. But one thing was really impressed upon his consciousness; namely, that he had seen a human being; that being was a woman, and that she was white!
He fell back on the sands supine, and lay staring upward. How long he lay there, he could not tell. He had been too amazed even to cry out, if he had possessed the power. And before he could decide upon anything, she was gone. He hoped, of course, that the woman or some of her companions, if she had any, would come again; but the dark, rugged, desolate rock cut the skyline with iron precision, unbroken by anything that had any suggestion of life, as before, when he had first looked upon it. He soon awoke to the realization that there was nothing to be gained by waiting. He must get something to eat to get back some of his strength before he explored the harbor to find a way to the top of the encircling cliffs.
He moved back to the spring and, thanking God for its sweetness, this time drank deeper than before. He took off his salt-encrusted clothes, held them under the falling water until they were clean of the sea marks, and then he plunged his own body in the waterfall. As he intended to swim back to the whaleboat, he laid his clothes out upon some rocks which faced the rift-like opening and through which the morning sun streamed with tropic intensity.
As he walked barefoot through the sand along the bank of the little shallow brook by which the waters that fell from the crest made their way to the sea, his foot struck something sharp that pricked him. He bent over it at once, instantly curious. In the situation in which he found himself, the slightest thing was of moment, or might be. He laughed as he recognized it. He eagerly tore from its bed in the sand-a pineapple!
Templin had replaced the sheath knife that had been taken from him by the captain, and it hung in his belt on the rocks behind him where he had left his clothes. To get it, to open it with nervous fingers, to cut into the heart of the pineapple, to bury his face greedily in the fragrant deliciousness of it, to eat it with almost animal-like ferocity, was inevitable in so ravenous a man. When he had devoured it to the last edible scrap, he searched the banks of the creek for other fruit, possible flotsam and jetsam from the upland; but the search produced nothing that met his fancy, for what he did find was decayed and useless.
He was abundantly thankful, however, for the pineapple. Leaving his clothing, except his shoes, which he put on again to protect his feet from the sharp rock, he climbed over the broken stone at the base of the rift and found himself once more on the stretch of sand opposite the wrecked whaleboat. The tide was evidently on the ebb, for much that had been covered before was now exposed. He gathered shellfish from the rocks, broke them open, and, restraining his hunger, which was still ravenous, partook sparingly of them.
Again making use of his boards, although he felt so much stronger that he might have dispensed with them, he swam out to the barrier reef and examined the whaleboat again. The lockers forward and aft were practically empty. He did come upon a few scraps of salt meat, which he had been unable to eat before in his consuming thirst; not enough for a meal for an ordinary man, but still very welcome, and these he devoured. There was not a crumb of hard bread left. That he had managed to eat, in spite of his thirst. There was not another thing in the boat except a boat hook, a stout pole with a brass hook on the end, and above the hook a sharp pointed spike. This point had got wedged in the bulkhead of the forward compartment, and the pole, lying under the thwarts, it had not been swept out by the seas which had broken over him. The boat itself was a hopeless wreck. The bottom had been torn out on the reef. Everything that had been in her was gone. If he could break her up, she would make good firewood if he should be able to compass a fire, and the copper air tanks forward and aft, which were still intact, might be of some service if he could ever get them off, which was improbable on account of the lack of tools. Nor would the boat hook be of much use to him. It would make a dangerous weapon in a hand-to-hand encounter, if he should be so unfortunate as to require it, but that was all.
The heat of the sun beating upon him warned him that he would best get back to the shelter of the cliffs and to his clothes. Taking the boat hook, after a last search of the lockers which revealed nothing, he once more swam the lagoon, by force of habit taking the planks which had assisted him before, although now he felt no need of them.
If it had not been for the presence of that woman on the upland indicating that the island was inhabited, he might have husbanded the scraps of salt meat which he had devoured so voraciously, but he reasoned as he ate them that there must be some way to the top, and that once there he would find plenty to eat. That woman could not have dropped from the clouds to the island. She or her forbears must have come up from the sea. If there were a way, he would find it. Retracing his steps, he presently regained the beach at the foot of the waterfall, and finding his clothes dry and free from salt, he put them on again with great comfort and gladness of heart.
Having taken his full meal of fruit, shellfish, and salt meat on the installment plan, as it were, and having prudently refrained from drinking his fill, contenting himself with frequent sips of water, he felt immensely refreshed. He had moved slowly in his weakness and exhaustion, and these various undertakings had used up most of the morning. He could tell from the sun that it was about noon. Selecting a spot on the warm, white sand which the sun had just left, which made a warm and even a luxurious bed for a man who had lain for how many days he could not tell on the hard planks and ribs of a boat in the tossing sea, he threw himself down on his back to rest, intending to begin his explorations in the afternoon. He instantly fell fast asleep.
When he awakened, the sun had set and, looking above and beyond the rocks that circled above him, he could see the stars shining in tropic brilliance in the quiet night sky. He was greatly refreshed by that long, undisturbed sleep on the warm, yielding sand. He was also ravenously hungry again, not famished, but just healthily hungry and thirsty. It was cool in the great cylinder at the bottom of which he lay. He concluded that it would be warmer on the ocean side where the sun had beaten with full power against the rock cliffs all day long. He would pass the night there. Drinking his fill, and drawing his belt a notch or two tighter, he found a sheltered spot protected by an overhang of rock and floored with clean, beautiful sand. He recalled whimsically enough Sancho Panza's sage reflection that "he who sleeps dines." Promising himself a day of exploration in the morning, he was soon asleep again.
Before dawn he made his way back to the waterfall. He was about to explore the harbor or cup when it occurred to him to wait until sunrise. Perhaps she would come again-that spirit of the island. With the first break of day as the splendor of the tropic morning streamed through the rift, he saw again the same radiant, beautiful, golden figure. This time he called. He shouted for help as loudly as he could, not because he had any idea that his words would be understood, but he felt that perhaps the appeal in his voice might be appreciated. He forgot that in his blue clothes he was practically invisible to anyone looking down into the gloom of the deep cup, especially as he stood against the foot of the darkest wall. The distance was great, but the sound of his voice-and it was the first time he had raised it or even spoken since he had landed-sent wild echoes flying which were thrown from wall to wall in almost maniacal ejaculations. Doubtless, they sounded much louder to him than to the woman above, but she was conscious of something unusual, for she started, and as he watched her closely he saw her peer down into the depths. Her vision swept the enclosure, but evidently she had not seen him, and although he called again and again, he finally desisted as she stopped her search, perhaps concluding that some wandering seabird with harsh cry might have sent those echoes flying, for presently she disappeared as before.
Well, he would solve the mystery of her presence when he got to the top of the rock, if he ever did. The first consideration was breakfast. The problem remained unsolved. No kindly brook rolled to his feet another pineapple. True, there were the mussels, but of these he ate sparingly. Then he took his board and launched out into the waters of the harbor. Here and there stretches of beach and piles of rock had collected at the foot of the cliffs which, for a large part of their extent, ran sheer down into the water, the blueness of which showed its depth. The sea water was warmer than the air in the hollow, at least until the sun had tempered it, and the bay was very still. He swam easily through it, landing at each stretch of sand or rock, also inspecting, as he progressed slowly, each fall of cliff that dropped into the water without breaking. Here and there practical ways of ascent seemed to open, but, when surveyed carefully or tried, they ended at greater or less distance upward.
After a careful survey of the entire enclosure, which brought him back finally to the beach of the waterfall where he had started on his little voyage of discovery, he decided that the only possible way to get to the top was by following the line of the waterfall. There was not a great deal of promise in that; still, as it was the only way, it had to be tried. Although he was in much better shape than when he landed, he was not in good condition for violent efforts or exercise had it not been for the impelling physical necessities behind him, to say nothing of the stimulating appeals to his mind of what must be above him.
The boat hook, which he used as he might have an alpenstock, proved of the greatest service. Indeed, he could scarcely have made the difficult ascent without it. It was fortunate for him that he had some experience in mountain climbing in various parts of the world, and that he rejoiced in the possession of a cool head, a steady nerve, and a sure foot. Part of the time he had to climb right through the waterfall. Fortunately, its volume was not great enough to render that impossible, although in the narrow places where the water was concentrated, its beat upon him was tremendous. Sometimes he would stop on a jutting rock with the swift waters roaring down on either side of him, again-in utter despair wondering how it would be humanly possible to go any further. Nevertheless, he persevered, his hope rising higher as he gradually mounted the cliff and surmounted the difficulties. Finally, he lost sense of time and almost everything else. His whole soul was centered upon a desperate determination to get upward.
At last he reached the little rift in the rim through which the water poured. Wet, bruised, cut, ineffably weary, he fell rather than lay down upon a smooth rock in the narrow ravine through which the stream flowed. He lay there a long time seeking to recover his breath, his strength, his nerve. Finally, he got to his feet again and surveyed the place. He was not yet at the top of the cliffs, but he was in a little ravine which led to the top through which the brook ran and which presented no difficulties compared to those he had surmounted.
The ravine twisted and turned as it ran upward, and he could yet see nothing but rocks ahead of him. With the aid of the boat hook, he followed the twisting, turning rift, or gorge, mounting on easy grades until, at last, he saw the open entrance before him. To his great joy and relief, he discovered that it was framed in the rich and vivid green of the lush growths of the tropics. Trees, bushes, blossoms were there; and, somewhere beyond, a woman! Light, life, humanity, Eden!
He was so overcome that he sank down again, but, with the certain goal before him, he presently rose to his feet and broke into a staggering run. He dashed through the undergrowth, which parted easily before him. He burst his way through more tangled vegetation and finally stopped breathless at the base of a noble palm tree. Ripe cocoanuts had fallen. He had cruised in tropic waters, and the knowledge he had gained was of service. He broke one open. Not even the pineapple he had found the day before tasted so delicious. When he had consumed it, he looked about him.
Yes, this was a paradise. All about him, the farther side being several miles straight away, in a rough, circular shape rose huge walls of stone enclosing the loveliest tropic landscape his eyes had ever looked upon. The one rift in these encircling walls was that through which the brook reached the sea. He could mark its line of silver winding about through the open land before him. The country was not level. It was rolling. Clumps of tall, graceful palms rose here and there.
Upon a tree-crowned little hillock, almost in the center of the vast enclosure, around the foot of which the brook ran, he saw a little cluster of houses, such buildings as he had never seen or heard of in the south seas. Smoke curled out of a real chimney. The place had a familiar look to him. It did not present the appearance of a Polynesian settlement, yet it was not absolutely unlike such, after all. Here and there he marked little stretches of cleared land at the foot of the hillock that looked strangely like cultivated fields. Similar gardens bordered the brook. He rubbed his eyes as he stared, because he seemed to recognize grain and plants with which he was familiar.
As his vision, obscured by his emotions for the moment, cleared, he saw in the distance men and women, brown-skinned people, but a little lighter than the handsome Polynesians with which he was familiar. He heard the bark of a dog.
If this were not the Garden of Eden, it was yet a paradise to that shipwrecked sailor. Yes, a paradise, and lo, before him, even as Eve might have stood before Adam, was the woman whom he had twice seen bathed in the rays of the morning, staring seaward from the high cliff where she had poised herself before his view as a vision-the Spirit of the Island!
The woman appeared suddenly before him from behind a clump of bushes. She was more surprised than he, for, having seen her before, he had hoped and expected to meet her. Nothing whatever had occurred to suggest to her his presence on the island. Besides, he had seen many women like her, and in the familiar dress of the south seas. She had never seen a man like him; never a white man; never a clothed man. She stopped and stared at him; not in any alarm, apparently, but in great surprise and astonishment. She made no movement to approach nearer, and he remained rooted to his place, as well. Each one had time to take in every detail of the other, and this is what he saw:
A young woman obviously just passing out of girlhood. Her abundant hair was beautifully golden, throwing back in daring brilliance the bright light of the morning sun. It was not dressed after the manner of the savage Polynesian, but was neatly plaited in thick braids which were twisted around her head like an aureate crown. He was near enough for the details, and he observed that her eyes were as blue as the tropic sea, and filled with light. Her slender figure, practically entirely revealed, for she wore nothing but a wide spreading petticoat of pandanus leaves which came just short of her knees, was the very perfection of native grace and beauty, albeit a trifle immature and, as yet, somewhat undeveloped. There flashed into his mind a remembrance of a day at the museum of the Capitol in Rome, and his first sight of the marble girl, which has a high place there and which is supposed to represent the very perfection of girlhood budding into womanhood. No marble had the rich softness of texture underneath firmness and strength that the skin of this wonderful girl-woman exhibited. Even the tropic sun had only slightly mellowed the clear translucence of her complexion. A great scarlet flower was placed behind her ear in her golden hair. Otherwise, she was absolutely unadorned. She was entirely unconscious of her inadequate attire, and he was unconscious of it, too. As an ancient nymph of Greece of old, she fitted into the soft beauty of the landscape so perfectly that in his eyes, as in her own, she lacked nothing. No apparel could have made more obvious the sweetness, the innocence, the youthful charm of this graceful, enchanting figure. That is what he saw on the heaven-kissing hill on that island.
In her turn, she saw a man who was dark where she was fair, whose thin and haggard face was covered with a short growth of new and thick beard and mustache which, nevertheless, did not hide its fineness; whose sodden, torn, blue denim clothing could not disguise the strong, vigorous lines of his well-knit figure; one who was whiter where his complexion showed, and taller and stronger than any man she had ever looked upon; whose clothes were as unfamiliar to her as her lack was unfamiliar to him; who stood erect, perhaps a head taller than she, and she was counted as a tall woman on that island, and stared at her with great interest and delight. She noticed that he carried a singular looking staff, the bright brass top of which shone in the light. He was like nothing she had ever seen. He had no advantage of her in that, except in so far as that charming girl of the Capitol was concerned. Obviously she found him distinctly pleasing.
Controlling his nerves as best he could, he stepped toward this radiant wood nymph, amicably extending his hands. Then he brought his palm up to his mouth, intending thus to convey to her that he was hungry. In return, she broke the silence by addressing him. There was something extraordinarily familiar in the language she used. He had been enough in the South Seas to have picked up a smattering of dialect, enough to pass; but her speech, while it was suggestive, was, nevertheless, unlike any native tongue he had ever heard before. He could not account for its familiarity, though he could not understand it. He only shook his head, put his hand to his mouth again, and moved his jaws. Obviously, she understood this simple sign language, for she at once nodded to him as she walked toward him.
She stretched out her hand to him, as she drew near, in a gesture that was somehow singularly European, and when his greater palm met her own daintier hand, to his great astonishment she shook it vigorously in a way totally different from that of any Polynesian of whom he had ever heard. Indeed, although the Polynesians are among the handsomest and best proportioned people on earth, there was nothing whatever that suggested a denizen of the South Sea about the girl, except her costume, or lack of it.
She said something more to him that sounded as familiar as her first address, but which was as puzzling and unintelligible as her other speech. Then she withdrew her hand, turned, and walked across the grass toward the clump of trees. She beckoned him to follow. Walk, of course, is the word that must be used to describe her progress; that monosyllable in this instance covers a multitude of graceful movements. To his fancy she seemed to dance across the sward; to float across it; her small, white feet skimming the grass; her slender, exquisitely proportioned limbs flashing in the very poetry of free and unhampered motion. He found her back view equally beautiful in its symmetry and slender grace as the face-to-face impression.
Forgetful of his needs for the moment in his surprise and pleasure, in the sheer joy of contemplating a thing so beautiful-a purely esthetic pleasure, without thought of anything but the sweet innocence and purity of the girl, which made it impossible to entertain any profaning thoughts, at least for a clean, decent, young man like Beekman-he followed her gladly. Behind the clump of palm trees ran a path through thick growths of tropic fern and cane and blooming leafage. She turned into it, and he had some difficulty in keeping up with her rapid progress. She looked back from time to time to see that he was following, but otherwise pursued her way without stopping.
After a walk of perhaps a mile, which led through groves of palm or thickets of undergrowth, or across opens in which he noticed plants under cultivation that had a singularly familiar look, although he could not stop to examine them in that rapid progress, they reached the settlement which he had observed when he came out of the cleft where the brook pierced the wall. Their approach had been marked for some time, and the whole population apparently had assembled to welcome them.
There were perhaps forty souls gathered under the palm trees in front of the curious houses. As near as he could estimate, one-third of them were men, mainly old; one-third of them were women, the most of them past their youth; and the rest were small, quiet, anæmic looking children. The women were clad like his guide. The men wore breech clouts or loin cloths. They ranged in color from a whiteness that nearly but not quite matched that of the girl to the rich, golden brown of the Polynesian. Most of them were distinctly undersized, not to say stunted. Old men and women predominated. The children were weak looking, decadent. There was a listlessness about them; a languor greater than that ordinarily to be found in the tropics. Even to his first superficial investigation they presented the appearance of a degenerate race of people that was dying out. There was no look of vigor even about the young, but in nearly every face a physical and a mental indifference. Surely here was an arrival to have raised the wildest excitement in normal people, but these islanders were almost passive in their scrutiny, albeit they were deeply interested.
Two figures detached themselves from the group as they approached, and stood forth prominently. The first was a man of great age, venerable, white bearded, white haired, hoary, wrinkled, bent with many years and the infirmities consequent thereon. He walked with difficulty, leaning upon a staff. His fellow was the tallest and most vigorous of the rest of the men. He appeared to be the most intelligent of them all. This is not saying that his intelligence would have been marked to a European, or that his vigor would have been noticed elsewhere in the world, but in that assemblage there was enough difference between him and the rest to awaken instant attention. The others were quite hopeless. The old man would have aroused interest and curiosity anywhere. The young man would have passed in a crowd of Europeans without notice one way or the other.
As they approached, Beekman's glance went from the girl who led him to the young man. The two, he observed, looked at each other with a certain familiarity which bespoke some sort of relationship. They exchanged eloquent glances. He noted that the young man was as much ahead of the rest of the islanders as he was below the girl. The old man who had stepped to the front and stood leaning upon a twisted sort of staff was the first to speak.
Again Beekman had that strange sense of familiarity with the words in spite of the fact that he could make nothing of them. The girl answered briefly. The young man joined in the conversation. The rest, slowly drawing nearer, spoke in brief ejaculations from time to time. Finally, the gentle tumult subsided, and the old man turned to Beekman and addressed him directly. The American shook his head. The old man, whose eyes were wonderfully bright and piercing, stared at him, evidently nonplussed by the situation. Beekman made the same sign as before, putting his hand to his mouth and moving his jaws, stretching out his arms, and then, as an after-thought, he patted his lean and empty stomach. It was obvious to the most backward that he was hungry. The old man nodded his head vigorously. He turned and spoke a few words. Some of the younger women walked off in the direction of the huts. Meanwhile, with a gesture singularly graceful, the old man beckoned to Beekman to sit down upon a rude rock bench under a giant palm.
Beekman was a man of great intrepidity, but even if he had been an arrant coward, there was nothing to cause him the least alarm. For one thing, not a single one of the group had a weapon of any sort, so far as he could see. He divined that they had gone to get him something to eat, and he took his seat readily. The old man squatted on the grass at his feet, and the others disposed themselves comfortably farther away. Only the young girl and the young man remained standing near him, and side by side.
Evidently something had seriously displeased the young man, for he spoke sharply and shortly to the amazed girl, who waved him away with a look of haughty disdain. When the women appeared bearing wooden platters upon which food was piled, the young woman, who seemed a person in authority among them, took the first platter and, approaching Beekman, dropped on one knee with a singularly graceful movement and extended it to him. He took it without hesitation, examined it quickly, discovered it to be some kind of roast meat, tasted it, striving to remember that he was a gentleman and must eat as such in the presence of these people who, whatever their origin, were obviously so gentle themselves.
The first bite told him what it was. A piece of roast pig on an island in the South Seas! And the next platter was heaped with such vegetables of Europe as would grow in tropic lands. How could these things be there? The oasis cup in which he was, like the enclosed bay whence he had climbed, was more convincingly than ever of volcanic origin. Shut off for how many years God only knew from all connection with the rest of the world, peopled by a nondescript race whose course was almost run-the girl and the young man evidently throw-backs or freaks of nature which had reproduced types of the past, much more perfect in the girl than in the man-what was the explanation of these mysteries? Pork-how came it there? And whence these vegetables of Europe? those cakes of wheat? This white girl, these half- and quarter-breeds-how came they to be? It was amazing. In spite of his hunger, he could hardly eat at first confronted by such a problem.
A little clicking sound suddenly attracted his attention from the food as the last bearer presented herself, her hands full of fruits. He looked down and discovered that the noise was made by a pair of wooden shoes which she was wearing, which had struck against a stone. A white woman, wooden shoes, the food of Europe! He almost stopped eating, and might have done so had he not been so desperately hungry. Well, the mystery would add zest to the monotonous life of the tropics. He would solve it somehow; the key must be somewhere on the island; meanwhile there was breakfast. The food was delicious. It was somewhat embarrassing to eat with his fingers; he could cut the meat with his sheath knife, but he made unpleasant weather of it, as a sailor would say.
When he had finished, and he played the dual part of Jack Sprat and his wife, so far as the meat was concerned, for he cleaned the platter, the old man produced a rudely fashioned pipe made from some wood unfamiliar to him. With the pipe came a wooden box filled with tobacco, and one of the children, at a word, brought him a stick, the end of which was a glowing ember, from a fire in some kind of a stone and clay furnace or oven before the circle of houses. He could not believe his eyes at first, and not until he had lighted the pipe and inhaled the fragrant contents did he know that it was very good tobacco-the last miracle of that morning, he thought, but no. As he leaned back against the palm tree, smoking in perfect content, the girl herself handed him a cocoanut shell filled with, very tolerable native wine. All he needed for absolute happiness was a book of verses, her presence, and the withdrawal of the rest of the crowd, he reflected whimsically, remembering Omar Khayyam. And in all this he had not once thought of Stephanie Maynard.
His material wants having been thus attended to, the old man spoke to the rest, and they slowly withdrew, going about their several vocations. It was yet early in the morning, and he noticed that some of the men and women proceeded in various directions, carrying what seemed to him to be rude primitive agricultural implements. It flashed upon Beekman that they were going to till the fields, which were, after all, only garden patches. No great area under cultivation was required to support that little handful. The dogs, whose bark he had heard, were as friendly as the rest. Such a thing as passion or anger or hatred seemed out of place and as foreign to the spot as they might have seemed in Eden before Eve ate the apple.