OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The Birth of an Island.

From "Idylls of the Sea".
Pages: <1>

For many years Pacific mariners, both of white and dusky races, had known and dreaded the dangers of the Marae Reef. It lay right in the track of vessels between Opolu and Nieuwe, only visible to the seaman's eye from the mast-head on calm days as a slight discoloration of the brilliant blue sea that everywhere else bared its unstained depths of single colour. With a fresh Trade blowing there was no difficulty in locating it, for it made its menace heard as well as seen. The long, indolent Pacific swell, sweeping majestically from continent to continent across half the world, met this mushroom growth in its mighty path and immediately raised its awful voice in thunderous protest against such an addition to the already innumerable dangers of that perilous region. Not only so, but as if it would uproot the intruder from its massy foundations that broadened down into the matrix of the world, the wrathful wave arose in gigantic billows of foaming white, in the midst of which momentarily appeared the defiant summits of living rocks, steadfast and secure, while the ageless ocean vainly sought to uproot it from its eternal base. But such scenes were of the most infrequent occurrence. The normal conditions of those waters were peaceful, and the swell scarcely heavy enough to raise even a solitary breaker once a day. And as the scanty trade between the islands grew less and less, the danger of the reef, nay, almost its very existence, passed out of men's minds.

Still, heedless of either elemental strife or serenest calm, the microscopic masons toiled on, each in its tiny cell content to fulfil the conditions of its being and to add its infinitesimal quota to the world-fragment; then, having justified its existence, to pass into other forms of usefulness by means of the ever-active alchemy of Nature. But for those of the builders whose lot it was to reach the summit of the fabric which their united efforts had reared there was another ending, or rather transmutation. A swift oblivion awaited them, a sudden severance from their life-work, as the reef, now awash, was left temporarily dry by the ebbing tide. Yet all around them uncounted myriads of their co-workers toiled eagerly upward to the same personal fate, the same collective achievement., each adding some essential to form the perfect whole. Thus from generation to generation the fabric grew, so slowly by man's reckoning, so swiftly according to the hasteless chronology of creation, until there came a day when, after a more placid period even than usual, the bared surface of the reef became covered with a dazzling floor of minutest fragments, ground from the countless pinnacles below by the unceasing attrition of the waves. Tide after tide lapped the infant beach, with kindliest murmur as of tender welcome, ever bringing fresh store of shining sand, until at low water of the, spring tides there was a new spot of earth's surface gleaming white in that expanse of blue, like a snowflake new-fallen upon a vast sapphire.

A little bird, grey of feather and with long, slender legs, drifted softly out of the surrounding void, and alighted daintily upon this glistening earth-bud with a sweet, low chirp of content that also sounded like a note of welcome. With delicate, mincing steps the graceful visitor pattered over the crisp sand, prying with keen black eyes and fine, nervous beak into every cranny and worm-hole, and finding apparently many a tasty morsel to reward her visit. Evening brought another guest on family cares intent, - a huge turtle, whose broad, buckler-like carapace rose shining out of the limpid wave like the dome of some naiad's pearly palace under the silvern glow of the broad moon. But instinct, that infallible guide to the lesser intelligences of animate creation, warned the expectant parent that here, for some time at any rate, no safe cache might be found for the deposit of those precious round eggs of hers. So, after a leisurely survey of the scanty circlet, she dragged her huge bulk lingeringly into the clear waters again, and was immediately transformed from a crawling reptile into a swift and graceful creature that cleft the waves like an arrow. Thenceforward many visitants came and went, birds, crustacea, and fish, most of them exchanging benefits with the new land, although any nascent germs of vegetation lay biding their appointed time until the sea should finally refrain from flinging an occasional lustration across the smiling face of the new-born islet. In due process of the suns, however, a wandering coco-nut came with many a backward sweep and much dallying upon the outskirts of the surrounding reef among the bewildering eddies, until at last a friendly wavelet caught it and spun it up high and dry, where it lay at rest, kept from rolling seaward again by a little ridge left in the sand, the impress of a more than usually vigorous breaker. In that soft scene of mild delight day succeeded day like the passing of a sunny afternoon dream, undisturbed by any clamorous voice of wind or hoarse note of ravin from the sea. Balmy airs, like the sweet breath of love, scarcely dimpled the serene face of the blue ocean around. In a beneficent flood the golden sunshine lavished its treasures upon the lonely ocean beneath by day, and by night the unaging glory of the silver stars, among whose countless hosts the quiet beauty of the lovely moon pursued her stately way, was perfectly reproduced in the same limitless mirror.

Beneath these gentle, yet irresistible, influences that solitary coco-nut felt its dim interior ferment with life. And out from the dead dryness of its husk sprang two slender arms; tender, beseeching things of a living green in almost startling contrast to the withered, storm-tossed envelope from whence they had emerged. In obedience to some hidden impulse one of them bent downwards and by slow persistence wrought its way into the sand, while the other lifted itself erect and presently unfolded a delicate green fan. Unwatched, unadmired, save by that Infinite Intelligence that fills the remotest corners of earth and sea with loveliness for Its own delight, the tiny tree strengthened daily, mooring itself ever deeper by spreading rootlets that reached down through the interstices of the reef beneath, and raising higher and higher in perfect beauty its feathery fronds of palest green, the earliest pioneer of the vegetable kingdom in this youthful patch of Mother Earth. After a while, as the coast-line extended and more of the dry land held its own against the engirdling deep, other plants of lower stature, but equal charm, managed to find a congenial root-hold in this seemingly barren patch of sand. Humble as they were, they gave to the islet the friendly tint that all eyes love, and made it more complete. Several migrant sea-birds halted here, and, finding the spot exactly suited to their needs, made it their home, laying their large eggs barely upon the smooth sand, and rearing in happy aloofness from all enemies their voracious broods. Turtles no longer disdained the scanty beach as a safe hatching place for their plentiful stores of eggs, and strange waifs from far-away lands were arrested in their weary oscillations about the never-resting ocean and peacefully brought here to a final abiding-place.

So fared the uneventful, unnoted procession of days, months, and years, until one morning the now abundant, happy life of the island awoke, as was its wont, at the first warm breath of a new day. A soft blush of indescribable colour-blends replaced the dark violet of the night sky, whose shadows retreated before that conquering dawn as if in haste to allow the advent of its coming glory. Soon, heralded by spears, streamers, and sheaves of shining gold, the majestic silence of his entry smiting the waiting hemisphere like the trump of an archangel, the great sun rose. His first level rays glided across the glowing sea and fell upon the wan, upturned face of a man, flung like any other fragment of jetsam up from the heaving bosom of the Pacific, and left apparently lifeless on the sand near the trunk of the now sturdy tree. Under that loving touch of reviving warmth the pale, set features relaxed, a shudder as if of re-entering vitality shook the gaunt limbs, and presently the eyes unclosed. The first human visitor to the island sat up and stared vacantly around. His upturned eyes caught sight of the great green bunches of delicious young fruit hanging some twenty feet above his head, and the sight was tantalising beyond measure to his leathery, cracking tongue and throat. He was far too weak to attempt such a task as climbing the tree would have been; but a few of the eggs that lay near soon supplied him with fresh vigour, although the outraged birds protested all they knew against this strange experience, unlike anything hitherto troubling their peaceful life. But as the man grew stronger his proceedings troubled the original freeholders more and more. For he collected a great heap of driftwood, including the mast of his own vessel, upon which he had been borne hither, and presently from out of the midst of the heap arose a heavy black pillar of smoke. Then through the smoke burst flashes of fire, before which all but those birds with young, whom no terrors would have driven them from, fled shrieking away. As the man grew stronger he climbed the tree, and drank greedily from the sweet liquid filling the young nuts; but while he sat there among the far-spreading leaves, he saw a sight that touched him deeper than would the most beautiful Nature picture in the world, - a schooner making for the island. They had seen his smoke-pillar at a great distance and altered their course to his rescue. So he went away, leaving behind him a terrible memory as of the ravages of some unthinkable monster whose visit had changed, not only the face of Nature, but all the habits and customs of the island-folk.

Pages: <1>

Pictures for The Birth of an Island.

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About