The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another.
“Hi!” it said. “Wait a minute!”
The undergrowth at the side of the scar was shaken and a multitude of raindrops fell pattering.
“Wait a minute,” the voice said. “I got caught up.”
The fair boy stopped and jerked his stockings with an automatic gesture that made the jungle seem for a moment like the Home Counties.
The voice spoke again.
“I can’t hardly move with all these creeper things.”
The owner of the voice came backing out of the undergrowth so that twigs scratched on a greasy wind-breaker. The naked crooks of his knees were plump, caught and scratched by thorns. He bent down, removed the thorns carefully, and turned round. He was shorter than the fair boy and very fat. He came forward, searching out safe lodgments for his feet, and then looked up through thick spectacles.
“Where’s the man with the megaphone?”
The fair boy shook his head.
“This is an island. At least I think it’s an island. That’s a reef out in the sea. Perhaps there aren’t any grownups anywhere.”
The fat boy looked startled.
‘There was that pilot. But he wasn’t in the passenger cabin, he was up in front.”
The fair boy was peering at the reef through screwed-up eyes.
“All them other lads,” the fat boy went on. “Some of them must have got out. They must have, mustn’t they?”
The fair boy began to pick his way as casually as possible toward the water. He tried to be offhand and not too obviously uninterested, but the fat boy hurried after him.
“Aren’t there any grownups at all?”
“I don’t think so.”
The fair boy said this solemnly; but then the delight of a realized ambition overcame him. In the middle of the scar he stood on his head and grinned at the reversed fat boy.
The fat boy thought for a moment.
The fair boy allowed his feet to come down and sat on the steamy earth.
“He must have flown off after he dropped us. He couldn’t land here. Not in a plane with wheels.”
“We was attacked!”
“He’ll be back all right.”
The fat boy shook his head.
“When we was coming down I looked through one of them windows. I saw the other part of the plane. There were flames coming out of it.”
He looked up and down the scar.
“And this is what the cabin done.”
The fair boy reached out and touched the jagged end of a trunk. For a moment he looked interested.
“What happened to it?” he asked. “Where’s it got to now?”
“That storm dragged it out to sea. It wasn’t half dangerous with all them tree trunks falling. There must have been some kids still in it.”
He hesitated for a moment, then spoke again.
“What’s your name?”
The fat boy waited to be asked his name in turn but this proffer of acquaintance was not made; the fair boy called Ralph smiled vaguely, stood up, and began to make las way once more toward the lagoon. The fat boy hung steadily at his shoulder.
“I expect there’s a lot more of us scattered about. You haven’t seen any others, have you?”
Ralph shook his head and increased his speed. Then he tripped over a branch and came down with a crash.
The fat boy stood by him, breathing hard.
“My auntie told me not to run,” he explained, “on account of my asthma.”
“That’s right. Can’t catch me breath. I was the only boy in our school what had asthma,” said the fat boy with a touch of pride. “And I’ve been wearing specs since I was three.”
He took off his glasses and held them out to Ralph, blinking and smiling, and then started to wipe them against his grubby wind-breaker. An expression of pain and inward concentration altered the pale contours of his face. He smeared the sweat from his cheeks and quickly adjusted the spectacles on his nose.
He glanced round the scar.
“Them fruit,” he said, “I expect—”
He put on his glasses, waded away from Ralph, and crouched down among the tangled foliage.
“Ill be out again in just a minute—”
Ralph disentangled himself cautiously and stole away through the branches. In a few seconds the fat boy’s grunts were behind him and he was hurrying toward the screen that still lay between him and the lagoon. He climbed over a broken trunk and was out of the jungle.
The shore was fledged with palm trees. These stood or leaned or reclined against the light and their green feathers were a hundred feet up in the air. The ground beneath them was a bank covered with coarse grass, torn everywhere by the upheavals of fallen trees, scattered with decaying coconuts and palm saplings. Behind this was the darkness of the forest proper and the open space of the scar. Ralph stood, one hand against a grey trunk, and screwed up his eyes against the shimmering water. Out there, perhaps a mile away, the white surf flinked on a coral reef, and beyond that the open sea was dark blue. Within the irregular arc of coral the lagoon was still as a mountain lake—blue of all shades and shadowy green and purple. The beach between the palm terrace and the water was a thin stick, endless apparently, for to Ralph’s left the perspectives of palm and beach and water drew to a point at infinity; and always, almost visible, was the heat.
He jumped down from the terrace. The sand was thick over his black shoes and the heat hit him. He became conscious of the weight of clothes, kicked his shoes off fiercely and ripped off each stocking with its elastic garter in a single movement Then he leapt back on the terrace, pulled off his shirt, and stood there among the skull-like coconuts with green shadows from the palms and the forest sliding over his skin. He undid the snake-clasp of his belt, lugged off his shorts and pants, and stood there naked, looking at the dazzling beach and the water.
He was old enough, twelve years and a few months, to have lost the prominent tummy of childhood; and not yet old enough for adolescence to have made him awkward. You could see now that he might make a boxer, as far as width and heaviness of shoulders went, but there was a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil. He patted the palm trunk softly, and, forced at last to believe in the reality of the island, laughed delightedly again and stood on his head. He turned neatly on to his feet, jumped down to the beach, knelt and swept a double armful of sand into a pile against his chest. Then he sat back and looked at the water with bright, excited eyes.
The fat boy lowered himself over the terrace and sat down carefully, using the edge as a seat.
“I’m sorry I been such a time. Them fruit—”
He wiped his glasses and adjusted them on his button nose. The frame had made a deep, pink “V” on the bridge. He looked critically at Ralph’s golden body and then down at his own clothes. He laid a hand on the end of a zipper that extended down his chest.
Then he opened the zipper with decision and pulled the whole wind-breaker over his head.
Ralph looked at him sidelong and said nothing.
“I expect we’ll want to know all their names,” said the fat boy, “and make a list. We ought to have a meeting.”
Ralph did not take the hint so the fat boy was forced to continue.
“I don’t care what they call me,” he said confidentially, “so long as they don’t call me what they used to call me at school.’
Ralph was faintly interested.
“What was that?”
The fat boy glanced over his shoulder, then leaned toward Ralph.
“They used to call me ‘Piggy.’”
Ralph shrieked with laughter. He jumped up.
Piggy clasped his hands in apprehension.
“I said I didn’t want—”
Ralph danced out into the hot air of the beach and then returned as a fighter-plane, with wings swept back, and machine-gunned Piggy.
He dived in the sand at Piggy’s feet and lay there laughing.
Piggy grinned reluctantly, pleased despite himself at even this much recognition.
“So long as you don’t tell the others—”
Ralph giggled into the sand. The expression of pain and concentration returned to Piggy’s face.
“Half a sec’.”
He hastened back into the forest. Ralph stood up and trotted along to the right.
Here the beach was interrupted abruptly by the square motif of the landscape; a great platform of pink granite thrust up uncompromisingly through forest and terrace and sand and lagoon to make a raised jetty four feet high. The top of this was covered with a thin layer of soil and coarse grass and shaded with young palm trees. There was not enough soil for them to grow to any height and when they reached perhaps twenty feet they fell and dried, forming a criss-cross pattern of trunks, very convenient to sit on. The palms that still stood made a green roof, covered on the underside with a quivering tangle of reflections from the lagoon. Ralph hauled himself onto this platform, noted the coolness and shade, shut one eye, ana decided that the shadows on his body were really green. He picked his way to the seaward edge of the platform and stood looking down into the water. It was clear to the bottom and bright with the efflorescence of tropical weed and coral. A school of tiny, glittering fish flicked hither and thither. Ralph spoke to himself, sounding the bass strings of delight.
Beyond the platform there was more enchantment. Some act of God—a typhoon perhaps, or the storm that had accompanied his own arrival—had banked sand inside the lagoon so that there was a long, deep pool in the beach with a high ledge of pink granite at the further end. Ralph had been deceived before now by the specious appearance of depth in a beach pool and he approached this one preparing to be disappointed. But the island ran true to form and the incredible pool, which clearly was only invaded by the sea at high tide, was so deep at one end as to be dark green. Ralph inspected the whole thirty yards carefully and then plunged in. The water was warmer than his blood and he might have been swimming in a huge bath.
Piggy appeared again, sat on the rocky ledge, and watched Ralph’s green and white body enviously.
“You can’t half swim.”
Piggy took off his shoes and socks, ranged them carefully on the ledge, and tested the water with one toe.
“What did you expect?”
“I didn’t expect nothing. My auntie—”
“Sucks to your auntie!”
Ralph did a surface dive and swam under water with his eyes open; the sandy edge of the pool loomed up like a hillside. He turned over, holding his nose, and a golden light danced and shattered just over his face. Piggy was looking determined and began to take off his shorts. Presently he was palely and fatly naked. He tiptoed down the sandy side of the pool, and sat there up to his neck in water smiling proudly at Ralph.
“Aren’t you going to swim?”
Piggy shook his head.
“I can’t swim. I wasn’t allowed. My asthma—”
“Sucks to your ass-mar!”
Piggy bore this with a sort of humble patience.
“You can’t half swim well.”
Ralph paddled backwards down the slope, immersed his mouth and blew a jet of water into the air. Then he lifted his chin and spoke.
“I could swim when I was five. Daddy taught me. He’s a commander in the Navy. When he gets leave hell come and rescue us. What’s your father?”
Piggy flushed suddenly.
“My dad’s dead,” he said quickly, “and my mum—”
He took off his glasses and looked vainly for something with which to clean them.
“I used to live with my auntie. She kept a candy store. I used to get ever so many candies. As many as I liked. When’ll your dad rescue us?”
“Soon as he can.”
Piggy rose dripping from the water and stood naked, cleaning his glasses with a sock. The only sound that reached them now through the heat of the morning was the long, grinding roar of the breakers on the reef.
“How does he know we’re here?”
Ralph lolled in the water. Sleep enveloped him like the swathing mirages that were wrestling with the brilliance of the lagoon.
“How does he know we’re here?”
Because, thought Ralph, because, because. The roar from the reef became very distant.
“They’d tell him at the airport.”
Piggy shook his head, put on his flashing glasses and looked down at Ralph.
“Not them. Didn’t you hear what the pilot said? About the atom bomb? They’re all dead.”
Ralph pulled himself out of the water, stood facing Piggy, and considered this unusual problem.
“This an island, isn’t it?”
“I climbed a rock,” said Ralph slowly, “and I think this is an island.”
“They’re all dead,” said Piggy, “an’ this is an island. Nobody don’t know we’re here. Your dad don’t know, nobody don t know—”
His lips quivered and the spectacles were dimmed with mist.
“We may stay here till we die.”
With that word the heat seemed to increase till it became a threatening weight and the lagoon attacked them with a blinding effulgence.
“Get my clothes,” muttered Ralph. “Along there.”
He trotted through the sand, enduring the sun’s enmity, crossed the platform and found his scattered clothes. To put on a grey shirt once more was strangely pleasing. Then he climbed the edge of the platform and sat in the green shade on a convenient trunk. Piggy hauled himself up, carrying most of his clothes under his arms. Then he sat carefully on a fallen trunk near the little cliff that fronted the lagoon; and the tangled reflections quivered over him.
Presently he spoke.
“We got to find the others. We got to do something.”
Ralph said nothing. Here was a coral island. Protected from the sun, ignoring Piggy’s ill-omened talk, he dreamed pleasantly.
“How many of us are there?”
Ralph came forward and stood by Piggy.
“I don’t know.”
Here and there, little breezes crept over the polished waters beneath the haze of heat. When these breezes reached the platform the palm fronds would whisper, so that spots of blurred sunlight slid over their bodies or moved like bright, winged things in the shade.
Piggy looked up at Ralph. All the shadows on Ralph’s face were reversed; green above, bright below from the lagoon. A blur of sunlight was crawling across his hair.
“We got to do something.”
Ralph looked through him. Here at last was the imagined out never fully realized place leaping into real life. Ralph’s lips parted in a delighted smile and Piggy, taking this smile to himself as a mark of recognition, laughed with pleasure.
“If ft really is an island—”
Ralph had stopped smiling and was pointing into the lagoon. Something creamy lay among the ferny weeds.
“No. A shell”
Suddenly Piggy was a-bubble with decorous excitement
“S’right. It’s a shell! I seen one like that before. On someone’s back wall A conch he called it. He used to blow it and then his mum would come. It’s ever so valuable—”
Near to Ralph’s elbow a palm sapling leaned out over the lagoon. Indeed, the weight was already pulling a lump from the poor soil and soon it would fall. He tore out the stem and began to poke about in the water, while the brilliant fish flicked away on this side and that. Piggy leaned dangerously.
“Careful! You’ll break it—”
Ralph spoke absently. The shell was interesting and pretty and a worthy plaything; but the vivid phantoms of his day-dream still interposed between him and Piggy, who in this context was an irrelevance. The palm sapling, bending, pushed the shell across the weeds. Ralph used one hand as a fulcrum and pressed down with the other till the shell rose, dripping, and Piggy could make a grab.
Now the shell was no longer a thing seen but not to be touched, Ralph too became excited. Piggy babbled:
“—a conch; ever so expensive. I bet if you wanted to buy one, you’d have to pay pounds and pounds and pounds—he had it on his garden wall, and my auntie—”
Ralph took the shell from Piggy and a little water ran down his arm. In color the shell was deep cream, touched here and there with fading pink. Between the point, worn away into a little hole, and the pink lips of the mouth, lay eighteen inches of shell with a slight spiral twist and covered with a delicate, embossed pattern. Ralph shook sand out of the deep tube.
“—mooed like a cow,” he said. “He had some white stones too, an’ a bird cage with a green parrot. He didn’t blow the white stones, of course, an’ he said—”
Piggy paused for breath and stroked the glistening thing that lay in Ralph’s hands.
Ralph looked up.
“We can use this to call the others. Have a meeting. They’ll come when they hear us—”
He beamed at Ralph.
“That was what you meant, didn’t you? That’s why you got the conch out of the water?’’
Ralph pushed back his fair hair.
“How did your friend blow the conch?”
“He kind of spat,” said Piggy. “My auntie wouldn’t let me blow on account of my asthma. He said you blew from down here.” Piggy laid a hand on his jutting abdomen. “You try, Ralph. You’ll call the others.”
Doubtfully, Ralph laid the small end of the shell against his mouth and blew. There came a rushing sound from its mouth but nothing more. Ralph wiped the salt water off his lips and tried again, but the shell remained silent.
“He kind of spat.”
Ralph pursed his lips and squirted air into the shell, which emitted a low, farting noise. This amused both boys so much that Ralph went on squirting for some minutes, between bouts of laughter.
“He blew from down here.”
Ralph grasped the idea and hit the shell with air from his diaphragm. Immediately the thing sounded. A deep, harsh note boomed under the palms, spread through the intricacies of the forest and echoed back from the pink granite of the mountain. Clouds of birds rose from the tree-tops, and something squealed and ran in the undergrowth.
Ralph took the shell away from his lips.
His ordinary voice sounded like a whisper after the harsh note of the conch. He laid the conch against his lips, took a deep breath and blew once more. The note Doomed again: and then at his firmer pressure, the note, fluking up an octave, became a strident blare more penetrating than before. Piggy was shouting something, his face pleased, his glasses flashing. The birds cried, small animals scuttered. Ralph’s breath failed; the note dropped the octave, became a low wubber, was a rush of air.
The conch was silent, a gleaming tusk; Ralph’s face was dark with breathlessness and the air over the island was full of bird-clamor and echoes ringing.
“I bet you can hear that for miles.”
Ralph found his breath and blew a series of short blasts.
Piggy exclaimed: “There’s one!”
A child had appeared among the palms, about a hundred yards along the beach. He was a boy of perhaps six years, sturdy and fair, his clothes torn, his face covered with a sticky mess of fruit. His trousers had been lowered for an obvious purpose and had only been pulled back half-way. He jumped off the palm terrace into the sand and his trousers fell about his ankles; he stepped out. of them and trotted to the platform. Piggy helped him up. Meanwhile Ralph continued to blow till voices shouted in the forest The small boy squatted in front of Ralph, looking up brightly and vertically. As he received the reassurance of something purposeful being done he began to look satisfied, and his only clean digit, a pink thumb, slid into his mouth.
Piggy leaned down to him.
“What’s yer name?”
Piggy muttered the name to himself and then shouted it to Ralph, who was not interested because he was still blowing. His face was dark with the violent pleasure of making this stupendous noise, and his heart was making the stretched shirt shake. The shouting in the forest was nearer.
Signs of life were visible now on the beach. The sand, trembling beneath the heat haze, concealed many figures in its miles of length; boys were making their way toward the platform through the hot, dumb sand. Three small children, no older than Johnny, appeared from startlingly dose at hand where they had been gorging fruit in the forest A dark little boy, not much younger than Piggy, parted a tangle of undergrowth, walked on to the platform, and smiled cheerfully at everybody. More and more of them came. Taking their cue from the innocent Johnny, they sat down on the fallen palm trunks and waited. Ralph continued to blow short, penetrating blasts. Piggy moved among the crowd, asking names and frowning to remember them. The children gave him the same simple obedience that they had given to the men with megaphones. Some were naked and carrying their clothes; others half-naked, or more or less dressed, in school uniforms, grey, blue, fawn, jacketed or jerseyed. There were badges, mottoes even, stripes of color in stockings and pullovers. Their heads clustered above the trunks in the green shade; heads brown, fair, black, chestnut, sandy, mouse-colored; heads muttering, whispering, heads full of eyes that watched Ralph and speculated. Something was being done.
The children who came along the beach, singly or in twos, leapt into visibility when they crossed the line from heat haze to nearer sand. Here, the eye was first attracted to a black, bat-like creature that danced on the sand, and only later perceived the body above it. The bat was the child’s shadow, shrunk by the vertical sun to a patch between the hurrying feet. Even while he blew, Ralph noticed the last pair of bodies that reached the platform above a fluttering patch of Hack. The two boys, bullet-headed and with hair like tow, flung themselves down and lay grinning and panting at Ralph like dogs. They were twins, and the eye was shocked and incredulous at such cheery duplication. They breathed together, they grinned together, they were chunky and vital. They raised wet lips at Ralph, for they seemed provided with not quite enough skin, so that their profiles were blurred and their mouths pulled open. Piggy bent his flashing glasses to them and could be heard between the blasts, repeating their names.
“Sam, Eric, Sam, Eric.”
Then he got muddled; the twins shook their heads and pointed at each other and the crowd laughed.
At last Ralph ceased to blow and sat there, the conch trailing from one hand, his head bowed on his knees. As the echoes died away so did the laughter, and there was silence.
Within the diamond haze of the beach something dark was fumbling along. Ralph saw it first, and watched till the intentness of his gaze drew all eyes that way. Then the creature stepped from mirage on to clear sand, and they saw that the darkness was not all shadows but mostly clothing. The creature was a party of boys, marching approximately in step in two parallel lines and dressed in strangely eccentric clothing. Shorts, shirts, and different garments they carried in their hands; but each boy wore a square black cap with a silver badge on it. Their bodies, from throat to ankle, were hidden by black cloaks which bore a long silver cross on the left breast and each neck was finished off with a hambone frill. The heat of the tropics, the descent, the search for food, and now this sweaty march along the blazing beach had given them the complexions of newly washed plums. The boy who controlled them was dressed in the same way though his cap badge was golden. When his party was about ten yards from the platform he shouted an order and they halted, gasping, sweating, swaying in the fierce light. The boy himself came forward, vaulted on to the platform with his cloak flying, and peered into what to him was almost complete darkness.
“Where’s the man with the trumpet?”
Ralph, sensing his sun-blindness, answered him.
“There’s no man with a trumpet. Only me.”
The boy came close and peered down at Ralph, screwing up his face as he did so. What he saw of the fair-haired boy with the creamy shell on his knees did not seem to satisfy him. He turned quickly, his black cloak circling.
“Isn’t there a ship, then?”
Inside the floating cloak he was tall, thin, and bony: and his hair was red beneath the black cap. His face was crumpled and freckled, and ugly without silliness. Out of. this face stared two light blue eyes, frustrated now, and turning, or ready to turn, to anger.
“Isn’t there a man here?” Ralph spoke to his back.
“No. We’re having a meeting. Come and join in.”
The group of cloaked boys began to scatter from close line. The tall boy shouted at them.
“Choir! Stand still!”
Wearily obedient, the choir huddled into line and stood there swaying in the sun. None the less, some began to protest faintly.
“But, Merridew. Please, Merridew… can’t we?”
Then one of the boys flopped on his face in the sand and the line broke up. They heaved the fallen boy to the platform and let him be. Merridew, his eyes staring, made the best of a bad job.
“All right then. Sit down. Let him alone.” “But Merridew.”
“He’s always throwing a faint,” said Merridew. “He did in Gib.; and Addis; and at matins over the precentor.”
This last piece of shop brought sniggers from the choir, who perched like black birds on the criss-cross trunks and examined Ralph with interest. Piggy asked no names. He was intimidated by this uniformed superiority and the offhand authority in Merridew’s voice. He shrank to the other side of Ralph and busied himself with his glasses.
Merridew turned to Ralph.
“Aren’t there any grownups?”
Merridew sat down on a trunk and looked round the circle.
“Then well have to look after ourselves.”
Secure on the other side of Ralph, Piggy spoke timidly.
“That’s why Ralph made a meeting. So as we can decide what to do. We’ve heard names. That’s Johnny. Those two—they’re twins, Sam ‘n Eric. Which is Eric—? You? No—you’re Sam—”
“‘n I’m Eric.”
“We’d better all have names,” said Ralph, “so I’m Ralph.”
“We got most names,” said Piggy. “Got ‘em just now.”
“Kids’ names,” said Merridew. Why should I be Jack? I’m Merridew.”
Ralph turned to him quickly. This was the voice of one who knew his own mind.
“Then,” went on Piggy, “that boy—I forget—”
“You’re talking too much,” said Jack Merridew. “Shut up, Fatty.”
“He s not Fatty,” cried Ralph, “his real name’s Piggy!”
A storm of laughter arose and even the tiniest child joined in. For the moment the boys were a closed circuit of sympathy with Piggy outside: he went very pink, bowed his head and cleaned his glasses again.
Finally the laughter died away and the naming continued. There was Maurice, next in size among the choir boys to Jack, but broad and grinning all the time. There was a slight, furtive boy whom no one knew, who kept to himself with an inner intensity of avoidance and secrecy. He muttered that his name was Roger and was silent again. Bill, Robert, Harold, Henry; the choir boy who had fainted sat up against a palm trunk, smiled pallidly at Ralph and said that his name was Simon.
“We’ve got to decide about being rescued.”
There was a buzz. One of the small boys, Henry, said that he wanted to go home.
“Shut up,” said Ralph absently. He lifted the conch. “Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things.”
“A chief! A chief!”
“I ought to be chief,” said Jack with simple arrogance, “because I’m chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp.”
“Well then,” said Jack, “I—”
He hesitated. The dark boy, Roger, stirred at last and spoke up.
“Let’s have a vote.”
“Vote for chief!”
This toy of voting was almost as pleasing as the conch. Jack started to protest but the clamor changed from the general wish for a chief to an election by acclaim of Ralph himself. None of the boys could have found good reason for this; what intelligence had been shown was traceable to Piggy while the most obvious leader was Jack. But there was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there was the conch. The being that had blown that, had sat waiting for them on the platform with the delicate thing balanced on his knees, was set apart.
“Him with the shell.” “Ralph! Ralph!”
“Let him be chief with the trumpet-thing.”
Ralph raised a hand for silence.
“All right. Who wants Jack for chief?”
With dreary obedience the choir raised their hands.
“Who wants me?”
Every hand outside the choir except Piggy’s was raised immediately. Then Piggy, too, raised his hand grudgingly into the air. Ralph counted. “I’m chief then.” The circle of boys broke into applause. Even the choir applauded; and the freckles on Jack’s face disappeared under a blush of mortification. He started up, then changed his mind and sat down again while the air rang. Ralph looked at him, eager to offer something.
“The choir belongs to you, of course.”
“They could be the army—”
“They could be—”
The suffusion drained away from Jack’s face. Ralph waved again for silence.
“Jack’s in charge of the choir. They can be—what do you want them to be?”
Jack and Ralph smiled at each other with shy liking. The rest began to talk eagerly.
Jack stood up.
“All right, choir. Take off your togs.”
As if released from class, the choir boys stood up, chattered, piled their black cloaks on the grass. Jack laid his on the trunk by Ralph. His grey shorts were sticking to him with sweat. Ralph glanced at them admiringly, and when Jack saw his glance he explained.
“I tried to get over that hill to see if there was water all round. But your shell called us.”
Ralph smiled and held up the conch for silence.
“Listen, everybody. I’ve got to have time to think things out I can’t decide what to do straight off. If this isn’t an island we might be rescued straight away. So we’ve got to decide if this is an island. Everybody must stay round here and wait and not go away. Three of us—if we take more we’d get all mixed, and lose each other—three of us will go on an expedition and find out. I’ll go, and Jack, and, and….”
He looked round the circle of eager faces. There was no lack of boys to choose from.
The boys round Simon giggled, and he stood up, laughing a little. Now that the pallor of his faint was over, he was a skinny, vivid little boy, with a glance coming up from under a hut of straight hair that hung down, black and coarse.
He nodded at Ralph.
Jack snatched from behind him a sizable sheath-knife and clouted it into a trunk. The buzz rose and died away.
Piggy stirred. “I’ll come.”
Ralph turned to him. “You’re no good on a job like this.”
“All the same—”
“We don’t want you,” said Jack, flatly.
Piggy’s glasses flashed.
“I was with him when he found the conch. I was with him before anyone else was.”
Jack and the others paid no attention. There was a general dispersal. Ralph, Jack and Simon jumped off the platform and walked along the sand past the bathing pool. Piggy hung bumbling behind them.
“If Simon walks in the middle of us,” said Ralph, “then we could talk over his head.”
The three of them fell into step. This meant that every now and then Simon had to do a double shuffle to eaten up with the others. Presently Ralph stopped and turned back to Piggy.
Jack and Simon pretended to notice nothing. They walked on.
“You can’t come.”
Piggy’s glasses were misted again—this time with humiliation.
“You told ‘em. After what I said.”
His face flushed, his mouth trembled. “After I said I didn’t want—”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“About being called Piggy. I said I didn’t care as long as they didn’t call me Piggy; an’ I said not to tell and then you went an’ said straight out—”
Stillness descended on them. Ralph, looking with more understanding at Piggy, saw that he was hurt and crushed. He hovered between the two courses of apology or further insult.
“Better Piggy than Fatty,” he said at last, with the directness of genuine leadership, “and anyway, I’m sorry if you feel like that. Now go back, Piggy, and take names. That’s your job. So long.”
He turned and raced after the other two. Piggy stood and the rose of indignation faded slowly from his cheeks. He went back to the platform.
The three boys walked briskly on the sand. The tide was low and there was a strip of weed-strewn beach that was almost as firm as a road. A land of glamour was spread over them and the scene and they were conscious of the glamour and made happy by it. They turned to each other, laughing excitedly, talking, not listening. The air was bright Ralph, faced by the task of translating all this into an explanation, stood on his head and fell over. When they had done laughing, Simon stroked Ralph’s arm shyly; and they had to laugh again.
“Come on,” said Jack presently, “we’re explorers.”
“We’ll go to the end of the island,” said Ralph, “and look round the corner.”
“If it is an island—”
Now, toward the end of the afternoon, the mirages were settling a little. They found the end of the island, quite distinct, and not magicked out of shape or sense. There was a jumble of the usual squareness, with one great block sitting out in the lagoon. Sea birds were nesting there.
“Like icing,” said Ralph, “on a pink cake.’
“We shan’t see round this corner,” said Jack, “because there isn’t one. Only a slow curve—and you can see, the rocks get worse—”
Ralph shaded his eyes and followed the jagged outline of the crags up toward the mountain. This part of the beach was nearer the mountain than any other that they had seen.
“We’ll try climbing the mountain from here,” he said. “I should think this is the easiest way. There’s less of that jungly stuff; and more pink rock. Come on.”
The three boys began to scramble up. Some unknown force had wrenched and shattered these cubes so that they lay askew, often piled diminishingly on each other. The most usual feature of the rock was a pink cliff surmounted by a skewed block; and that again surmounted, and that again, till the pinkness became a stack of balanced rock projecting through the looped fantasy of the forest creepers. Where the pink cliffs rose out of the ground there were often narrow tracks winding upwards. They could edge along them, deep in the plant world, their faces to the rock.
“What made this track?”
Jack paused, wiping the sweat from his face. Ralph stood by him, breathless.
Jack shook his head.
Ralph peered into the darkness under the trees. The forest minutely vibrated.
The difficulty was not the steep ascent round the shoulders of rock, but the occasional plunges through the undergrowth to get to the next path. Here the roots and stems of creepers were in such tangles that the boys had to thread through them like pliant needles. Their only guide, apart from the brown ground and occasional flashes of fight through the foliage, was the tendency of slope: whether this hole, laced as it was with the cables of creeper, stood higher than that.
Somehow, they moved up.
Immured in these tangles, at perhaps their most difficult moment, Ralph turned with shining eyes to the others.
The cause of their pleasure was not obvious. All three were hot, dirty and exhausted. Ralph was badly scratched. The creepers were as thick as their thighs and left little but tunnels for further penetration. Ralph shouted experimentally and they listened to the muted echoes.
“This is real exploring,” said Jack. “I bet nobody’s been here before.”
“We ought to draw a map,” said Ralph, “only we haven’t any paper.”
“We could make scratches on bark,” said Simon, “and rub black stuff in.”
Again came the solemn communion of shining eyes in the gloom.
There was no place for standing on one’s head. This time Ralph expressed the intensity of his emotion by pretending to Knock Simon down; and soon they were a happy, heaving pile in the under-dusk.
When they had fallen apart Ralph spoke first.
“Got to get on.”
The pink granite of the next cliff was further back from the creepers and trees so that they could trot up the path. This again led into more open forest so that they had a glimpse of the spread sea. With openness came the sun; it dried the sweat that had soaked their clothes in the dark, damp heat. At last the way to the top looked like a scramble over pink rock, with no more plunging through darkness. The boys chose their way through defiles and over heaps of sharp stone.
High over this end of the island, the shattered rocks lifted up their stacks and chimneys. This one, against which Jack leaned, moved with a grating sound when they pushed.
But not “Come on” to the top. The assault on the summit must wait while the three boys accepted this challenge. The rock was as large as a small motor car.
Sway back and forth, catch the rhythm.
Increase the swing of the pendulum, increase, increase, come up and bear against that point of furthest balance-increase—increase—
The great rock loitered, poised on one toe, decided not to return, moved through the air, fell, struck, turned over, leapt droning through the air and smashed a deep hole in the canopy of the forest. Echoes and birds flew, white and pink dust floated, the forest further down shook as with the passage of an enraged monster: and then the island was still.
“Like a bomb!”
Not for five minutes could they drag themselves away from this triumph. But they left at last.
The way to the top was easy after that As they reached the last stretch Ralph stopped.
They were on the lip of a circular hollow In the side or the mountain. This was filled with a blue flower, a rock plant of some sort, and the overflow hung down the vent and spilled lavishly among the canopy of the forest. The air was thick with butterflies, lifting, fluttering, settling.
Beyond the hollow was the square top of the mountain and soon they were standing on it.
They had guessed before that this was an island: clambering among the pink rocks, with the sea on either side, and the crystal heights of air, they had known by some instinct that the sea lay on every side. But there seemed something more fitting in leaving the last word till they stood on the top, and could see a circular horizon of water.
Ralph turned to the others.
“This belongs to us.”
It was roughly boat-shaped: humped near this end with behind them the jumbled descent to the shore. On either side rocks, cliffs, treetops and a steep slope: forward there, the length of the boat, a tamer descent, tree-clad, with hints of pink: and then the jungly flat of the island, dense green, but drawn at the end to a pink tail There, where the island petered out in water, was another island; a rock, almost detached, standing like a fort, facing them across the green with one bold, pink bastion.
The boys surveyed all this, then looked out to sea. They were high up and the afternoon had advanced; the view was not robbed of sharpness by mirage.
“That’s a reef. A coral reel. I’ve seen pictures like that.”
The reef enclosed more than one side of the island, tying perhaps a mile out and parallel to what they now thought of as their beach. The coral was scribbled in the sea as though a giant had bent down to reproduce the shape of the island in a flowing chalk line but tired before he had finished. Inside was peacock water, rocks and weed showing as in an aquarium; outside was the dark blue of the sea. The tide was running so that long streaks of foam tailed away from the reef and for a moment they felt that the boat was moving steadily astern.
Jack pointed down.
“That s where we landed.”
Beyond falls and cliffs there was a gash visible in the trees; there were the splintered trunks and then the drag, leaving only a fringe of palm between the scar and the sea. There, too, jutting into the lagoon, was the platform, with insect-like figures moving near it.
Ralph sketched a twining line from the bald spot on which they stood down a slope, a gully, through flowers, round and down to the rock where the scar started.
“That’s the quickest way back.”
Eyes shining, mouths open, triumphant, they savored the right of domination. They were lifted up: were friends.
“There’s no village smoke, and no boats,” said Ralph wisely. “We’ll make sure later; but I think it’s uninhabited.”
“We’ll get food,” cried Jack. “Hunt. Catch things… until they fetch us.”
Simon looked at them both, saying nothing but nodding till his black hair flopped backwards and forwards: his face was glowing.
Ralph looked down the other way where there was no reef.
“Steeper,” said Jack.
Ralph made a cupping gesture.
“That bit of forest down there… the mountain holds it up.”
Every point of the mountain held up trees—flowers and trees. Now the forest stirred, roared, flailed. The nearer acres of rock flowers fluttered and for half a minute the breeze blew cool on their faces.
Ralph spread his arms.
They laughed and tumbled and shouted on the mountain.
When Simon mentioned his hunger the others became aware of theirs.
“Come on,” said Ralph. “We’ve found out what we wanted to know.”
They scrambled down a rock slope, dropped among flowers and made their way under the trees. Here they paused and examined the bushes round them curiously.
Simon spoke first.
“Like candles. Candle bushes. Candle buds.”
The bushes were dark evergreen and aromatic and the many buds were waxen green and folded up against the light. Jack slashed at one with his knife and the scent spilled over them.
“You couldn’t light them,” said Ralph. “They just look like candles.”
“Green candles,” said Jack contemptuously. “We can’t eat them. Come on.”
They were in the beginnings of the thick forest, plonking with weary feet on a track, when they heard the noises—squeakings—and the hard strike of hoofs on a path. As they pushed forward the squeaking increased till it became a frenzy. They found a piglet caught in a curtain of creepers, throwing itself at the elastic traces in all the madness of extreme terror. Its voice was thin, needle-sharp and insistent. The three boys rushed forward and Jack drew his knife again with a flourish. He raised his arm in the air. There came a pause, a hiatus, the pig continued to scream and the creepers to jerk, and the blade continued to flash at the end of a bony arm. The pause was only long enough for them to understand what an enormity the downward stroke would be. Then the piglet tore loose from the creepers and scurried into the undergrowth. They were left looking at each other and the place of terror. Jack’s face was white under the freckles’. He noticed that he still held the knife aloft and brought his arm down replacing the blade in the sheath. Then they all three laughed ashamedly and began to climb back to the track.
“I was choosing a place,” said Jack. “I was just waiting for a moment to decide where to stab him.”
“You should stick a pig,” said Ralph fiercely. “They always talk about sticking a pig.”
“You cut a pig’s throat to let the blood out,” said Jack, “otherwise you can’t eat the meat”
“Why didn’t you—?”
They knew very well why he hadn’t: because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood.
“I was going to,” said Jack. He was ahead of them and they could not see his face. “I was choosing a place. Next time—!”
He snatched his knife out of the sheath and slammed it into a tree trunk. Next time there would be no mercy. He looked round fiercely, daring them to contradict. Then they broke out into the sunlight and for a while they were busy finding and devouring rood as they moved down the scar toward the platform and the meeting.