Выбрать главу

That was alclass="underline" a few moments. Then silence, with a rapid countermarch, recovered all his rebellious kingdom. Stillness again. The trees moved as little as the pillars of a ruin, each leaf laid sleekly in place. The bubbling foam subsided: the reflections of the stars came out among it as if from clouds. Silent, still, dark, placid, as if there could never have been a disturbance. The naked children too continued to stand motionless beside the quiet ponies, dew on their hair and eyelashes, shine on their infantile round paunches.

But as for Emily, it was too much. The earthquake went completely to her head. She began to dance, hopping laboriously from one foot on to another. John caught the infection. He turned head over heels on the damp sand, over and over in an elliptical course, till before he knew it he was in the water, and so giddy as hardly to be able to tell up from down.

At that, Emily knew what it was she wanted to do. She scrambled on to a pony and galloped him up and down the beach, trying to bark like a dog. The Fernandez children stared, solemn but not disapproving. John, shaping a course for Cuba, was swimming as if sharks were paring his toe-nails. Emily rode her pony into the sea, and beat and beat him till he swam: and so she followed John towards the reef, yapping herself hoarse.

It must have been fully a hundred yards before they were spent. Then they turned for the shore, John holding on to Emily’s leg, puffing and gasping, both a little overdone, their emotion run down. Presently John gasped:

“You shouldn’t ride on your bare skin, you’ll catch ringworm.”

“I don’t care if I do,” said Emily.

“You would if you did,” said John.

“I don’t care!” chanted Emily.

It seemed a long way to the shore. When they reached it the others had dressed and were preparing to start. Soon the whole party were on their way home in the dark. Presently Margaret said:

“So that’s that.”

No one answered.

“I could smell it was an earthquake coming when I got up. Didn’t I say so, Emily?”

“You and your smells!” said Jimmie Fernandez. “You’re always smelling things!”

“She’s awfully good at smells,” said the youngest, Harry, proudly, to John. “She can sort out people’s dirty clothes for the wash by smelclass="underline" who they belong to.”

“She can’t really,” said Jimmie: “she fakes it. As if every one smelt different!”

“I can!”

“Dogs can, anyway,” said John.

Emily said nothing. Of course people smelt different: it didn’t need arguing. She could always tell her own towel from John’s, for instance: or even knew if one of the others had used it. But it just showed what sort of people Creoles were, to talk about Smell, in that open way.

“Well, anyhow I said there was going to be an earthquake and there was one,” said Margaret. That was what Emily was waiting for! So it really had been an Earthquake (she had not liked to ask, it seemed so ignorant, but now Margaret had said in so many words that it was one).

If ever she went back to England, she could now say to people, “ I have been in an Earthquake .”

With that certainty, her soused excitement began to revive. For there was nothing, no adventure from the hands of God or Man, to equal it. Realize that if she had suddenly found she could fly it would not have seemed more miraculous to her. Heaven had played its last, most terrible card; and small Emily had survived, where even grown men (such as Korah, Dathan, and Abiram) had succumbed.

Life seemed suddenly a little empty: for never again could there happen to her anything so dangerous, so sublime.

Meanwhile, Margaret and Jimmie were still arguing:

“Well, there’s one thing, there’ll be plenty of eggs tomorrow,” said Jimmie. “There’s nothing like an earthquake for making them lay.”

How funny Creoles were! They didn’t seem to realize the difference it made to a person’s whole after-life to have been in an Earthquake.

When they got home, Martha, the black housemaid, had hard things to say about the sublime cataclysm. She had dusted the drawing-room china only the day before: and now everything was covered again in a fine penetrating film of dust.


The next morning, Sunday, they went home. Emily was still so saturated in earthquake as to be dumb. She ate earthquake and slept earthquake: her fingers and legs were earthquake. With John it was ponies. The earthquake had been fun: but it was the ponies that mattered. But at present it did not worry Emily that she was alone in her sense of proportion. She was too completely possessed to be able to see anything, or realize that any one else pretended to even a self-delusive fiction of existence.

Their mother met them at the door. She bubbled questions: John chattered ponies, but Emily was still tonguetied. She was, in her mind, like a child who has eaten too much even to be able to be sick.

Mrs. Thornton got a little worried about her at times. This sort of life was very peaceful, and might be excellent for nervy children like John: but a child like Emily, thought Mrs. Thornton, who is far from nervy, really needs some sort of stimulus and excitement, or there is a danger of her mind going to sleep altogether for ever. This life was too vegetable. Consequently Mrs. Thornton always spoke to Emily in her brightest manner, as if everything was of the greatest possible interest. She had hoped, too, the visit to Exeter might liven her up: but she had come back as silent and expressionless as ever. It had evidently made no impression on her at all.ᅠ

John marshaled the small ones in the cellar, and round and round they marched, wooden swords at the slope, singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Emily did not join them. What did it now matter, that earlier woe, that being a girl she could never when grown up become a real soldier with a real sword? She had been in an Earthquake.ᅠ

Nor did the others keep it up very long. (Sometimes they would go on for three or four hours.) For, whatever it might have done for Emily’s soul, the earthquake had done little to clear the air. It was as hot as ever. In the animal world there seemed some strange commotion, as if they had wind of something. The usual lizards and mosquitoes were still absent: but in their place the earth’s most horrid progeny, creatures of darkness, sought the open: land-crabs wandered about aimlessly, angrily twiddling their claws: and the ground seemed almost alive with red ants and cockroaches. Up on the roof the pigeons were gathered, talking to each other fearfully.ᅠ

The cellar (or rather, ground floor), where they were playing, had no communication with the wooden structure above, but had an opening of its own under the twin flight of steps leading to the front door; and there the children presently gathered in the shadow. Out in the compound lay one of Mr. Thornton’s best handkerchiefs. He must have dropped it that morning. But none of them felt the energy to go and retrieve it, out into the sun. Then, as they stood there, they saw Lame-foot Sam come limping across the yard. Seeing the prize, he was about to carry it off. Suddenly he remembered it was Sunday. He dropped it like a hot brick, and began to cover it with sand, exactly where he had found it.

“Please God, I thieve you to-morrow,” he explained hopefully. “Please God, you still there?”

A low mutter of thunder seemed to offer grudging assent.

“Thank you, Lord,” said Sam, bowing to a low bank of cloud. He hobbled off: but then, not too sure perhaps that Heaven would keep Its promise, changed his mind: snatched up the handkerchief and made off for his cottage. The thunder muttered louder and more angrily: but Sam ignored the warning.

It was the custom that, whenever Mr. Thornton had been to St. Anne’s, John and Emily should run out to meet him, and ride back with him, one perched on each of his stirrups.