The Garden of God
The Garden of God
“No,” said Lestrange, “they are dead.”
The whale boat and the dinghy lay together, gunnels grinding as they lifted tothe swell. Two cable lengths away lay the schooner from which the whale boathad come; beyond and around from sky-line to sky-line the blue Pacific laydesolate beneath the day.
“They are dead.”
He was gazing at the forms on the dinghy, the form of a girl with a childembraced in one arm, and a youth. Clasping one another, they seemed asleep.
From where had they drifted? To where were they drifting? God and the seaalone could tell.
A Farallone cormorant, far above, wheeling and slanting on the breeze, hadfollowed the dinghy for hours, held away by the awful and profound knowledge,born of instinct, that one of the castaways was still alive. But it stillhung, waiting.
“The child is not dead,” said Stanistreet. He had reached forward and, gentlyseparating the forms, had taken the child from the mother’s arms. It was warm,it moved, and as he handed it to the steersman, Lestrange, almost upsettingthe boat, stood up. He had glimpsed the faces of the dead people. Clasping hishead with both hands and staring at the forms before him, mad, distracted bythe blow that Fate had suddenly dealt him, his voice rang out across the sea:“My children!”
Stanistreet, the captain of the schooner, Stanistreet, who knew the story ofthe lost children so well, knelt aghast just in the position in which he hadhanded the child to the sailor in the stern sheets.
The truth took him by the throat. It must be so. These were no Kanakas driftedto sea; the dinghy alone might have told him that. These were the childrenthey had come in search of, grown, mated and—dead.
His quick sailor’s mind reckoned rapidly. The island they were making for inhopes of finding the long-lost ones was close to them; the northward runningcurrent would have brought the dinghy; some inexplicable sea chance haddrifted them from shore; they were here, come to meet the man who had soughtthem for years—what a fatality!
Lestrange had sunk as if crushed down by some hand. Taking the girl’s arm, hedrew it towards him. “Look!” he cried, as if speaking to high heaven. “And myboy—oh, look! Dick—Emmeline—oh, God! My God! Why? Why? Why?”
He dashed his head on the gunnel. Far away above the cormorant watched.
It saw the whale boat making back from the schooner with the dinghy in tow; itsaw the forms it hungered for taken on board; it saw the preparations on deckand the bodies of the lost ones committed to the deep. Then, turning with acry, it drifted on the wind and vanished, like an evil spirit, from the blue.
It was just on daybreak and the Ranatonga, running before an eight-knotbreeze, was boosting the star-shot water to snow.
Bowers, the bo’sun, an old British Navy quartermaster, was at the wheel andStanistreet, the captain, had just come on deck.
“Gentleman goin’ on all right, sir?” asked Bowers.
“Mr. Lestrange is still asleep, and thank God for it,” said Stanistreet, “andthe child’s well. It woke and I gave it a pannikin of condensed and water andit’s in the starboard after-bunk asleep again.”
“I thought the gentleman was dead when you brought him back aboard, sir,” saidBowers. “I never did see such a traverse, them pore young things and all; wegoin’ to hunt for them, as you may say, and them comin’ off to meet us likethat—why, that dinghy was swep’ clean down to the bailer—no oars, nuthin—andwhat were they doin’ with that dinghy? Where’d they get that dinghy from’swhat I want to know.”
“Curse the dinghy,” said Stanistreet. “Only for her I wouldn’t believe thisthing true—but I’ve got to, there’s no getting away from it. I’ll tell youabout that dinghy. It’s just like this. It belonged to a hooker that Mr.Lestrange was coming up to Frisco in long years ago. She got burnt out waydown here somewhere, the boats got separated in a fog that came on them andthe ship’s dinghy, with his two kids and an old sailor man, was never seenagain. He never believed them dead; he’s been hunting all these years up anddown the ports of the world on chance of finding news of them. He had it inhis head some chap had picked them up—not a sign; then, a bit ago, a friendof mine, Captain Fountain, struck one of his advertisements, and gave news ofindications he’d found on this island we’re seeking for; he’d picked up achild’s toy box, but he hadn’t made a search of the place, being after whalesand knowing nothing of the story, so Mr. Lestrange, when he got the news, putthe Ranatonga in commission. That’s what we started on this voyage for, andnow you know.”
“How far’s that island from here, sir?” asked Bowers.
“When we struck the dinghy yesterday it was a hundred and fifty south; we’renot more than sixty from it now. We’ll reach it before noon.”
“And them pore things came driftin’, father, mother and child, a hundred andfifty mile without bite or sup?”
“God knows,” said Stanistreet, “what food they had with them. There wasnothing in the boat but a bit of tree branch with a red berry on it.”
Bowers spun the wheel and shifted the quid in his mouth.
“And the child stood the batter of