Enchained by the innumerable complexities of modern city existence, how strangely, how sweetly, do the dreams of roaming amid isles of perpetual summer come to the pale slave of civilisation.

Leaning back in his office chair, the pen drops idly from his relaxed fingers, while the remorseless hum from the human hive without loses its distinctive note and becomes by some strange transmutation the slumberous murmur of snowy surf upon far-off coral shores. The dim ceiling, that so often has seemed to press upon his brain like the load of Atlas, melts upward into a celestial canopy of a blue so deep and pure that it is the last expression of the Infinite.

On the wings of fancy, swifter and more easeful than those of the albatross, he is wafted to those fairy shores where Nature smiles in changeless youth and winterless glow. Through every weary sinew thrills the bright message of life, the unconscious outcome of perfect health absorbed from perfect surroundings. He is back again in the days of the world’s infancy, feeling his mid-millennial vigour bounding in every pulse, flooding every artery. In cunningly-fashioned canoe, with grass-woven sails, he floats upon the radiant sea, so like to the heaven above that his gliding shallop seems to swing through the boundless ether, a sprite, a fay of the fruitful brain.

Then as the flood-tide of living bubbles over the brim of restraint he lifts a mighty voice, a full-throated cry of joy wherein is no speech nor language, only exultant music welling up from deeps of fathomless satisfaction. He springs erect, with flashing eyes, and rolling muscles heaving under his shining skin, such a figure as, made in His own glorious image, the Master gazed upon—and, behold, it was very good. Far below him swim the gorgeous sea-folk, each ablaze with colour, living jewels enhanced by their setting. In mazy evolutions full of grace they woo him to join in their play, to explore with them the splendours of the coral groves, to wreath about his majestic form the tender festoons of sea-flowers and deck himself with glowing shells.

Like a dolphin he dives, deeper and deeper as with grasping hands he overcomes the resisting waters. Deeper and deeper yet until the fervent sunshine is suffused into a milder, tenderer light, and everything around is enwrapped in a beauty-mist, a glamorous illusion that melts all angles into curves of loveliness. He enters into the palaces of the deep, and all the skill of Titanic builders on earth becomes to his mind a thing of naught. Interminable rows of columns, all symmetrical, each perfect in beauty, yet none alike, are arrayed before him; massy architraves, domes light-springing from their piers as bubbles, yet in circumference so vast that their limits are lost in shadow, slender spires of pearl, soaring upward like vapour-wreaths: and all interwoven with the wondrous design a fairy tracery of stone, appearing light and luminous as sea foam. The happy living things troop forth to meet him and sweep in many a delicate whirl around until, recalled by the need of upper air, he waves them farewell and ascends.

Oh! the fierce delight of that swift upward rush, the culminating ecstasy as he bounds into the palpitating air above and lies, so softly cradled, upon the limpid wave! There for a season he floats, drinking deep of the brine-laden air, every touch of the sea a caress, every heart-beat a well-spring of pleasure. Then with a shout he hurls himself forward as if he too were a free citizen of the ocean, emulating with almost equal grace the sinuous spring of the porpoise and the marvellous succession of curves presented by the overwhelming whale. He claims kindred with them all, embraces them; clinging lovingly to their smooth sides he frolics with them, rejoicing in the plenitude of their untainted strength.

Before him rise the islands, mounds of emerald cresting bases of silver sand. Willowy palm-trees dip their roots in the warm wavelets and rear their tufted coronets on high. Darker-leaved, the orange-trees droop their branches shot with golden gleams where the fruit hangs heavily, filling the gentle air with fragrance. Bright-plumaged birds flash amongst the verdure; along the glittering shores rest placidly the sea-fowl returned from their harvesting and comforting their fluffy broods. With huge steps he strides shorewards, and springing lightly from the sand, he reaches in a dozen bounds the crown of the loftiest[74] palm, whose thickly-clustering fruit bids him drink and drink again.

The island folk dread him not; fear has not yet visited those sunny shores. And as he was with the sea-people so is he with their compeers on land, a trusted playfellow, a creature perfect in glory and beauty, able to vie with them in their superb activities, their amazing play of vigour, their abounding joy in the plentiful gifts of Nature.

After those sunny gambols, how sweet the rest on yielding couch of leaves, fanned by sweet zephyrs laden with the subtle scents of luxuriant flowers, and lulled by the slumber-song of the friendly sea. Around him, with drooping wing, nestle the birds; the bejewelled insects hush their busy songs into tenderest murmurs, the green leaves hang in unrustling shade, noiselessly waving over him a cool breath. There is peace and sleep.

“Awake, O laggard!” cry the birds; “awake and live! Joy comes anew. Love and life and strength are calling us, and every sense answers triumphantly. Sweet is the dawn when the splendid sun springs skyward and the quiet night steals away; sweet is the strength of noonday, when downward he sends his shafts of life-giving flame, and we lie in the shade renewing from his exhaustless stores of energy our well-spent strength. But sweetest of all the time when, his majestic ascension accomplished, our sun sweeps westward to his ocean-bed, and all his children hasten to revel in his tempered beams until he hides his glorious face for a season, and night brings her solemn pleasures.”

Swift upspringing the man answers gladly to the call. And forth to meet him come a joyous band of his fellows, their dancing feet scarce touching the earth. Not a weakling among them. Men and women and children alike clean-limbed and strong, with sparkling eyes and perfect gestures. Their nude shapes shine like burnished bronze with natural unguents, their white and well-set teeth glitter as they laugh whole-heartedly, their black, abundant hair is entwined with scarlet hibiscus, and their voices ring musical and full. They do not walk—they bound, they spring, and toss their arms in wildest glee.

Surrounding him, they bear him away to where a crystal river rushes headlong down through a valley of velvet green to cast itself tumultuously over a cliff-lip forty feet into the sea. As it approaches its leap the translucent waters whirl faster and faster in rising wreaths and ridges of dazzling white, until in one snowy mass, crowned with a pearly mist, it hurls itself into the smooth blue depths below. With one accord the wildly gambolling band hurl themselves into those limpid waters some hundreds of yards above the fall. As on softest couch they glide swiftly along, their peals of laughter echoing multitudinously from the green bosoms of the adjacent hills.

Faster and faster still they are borne onward until, singly and in groups, they flash out into the sunshine and plunge into the awaiting ocean. So swiftly do they pass that it seems but a breathing space since, far inland, they sprang from the banks into the river, and they now lie in blissful content upon the quiet[76] sea, every nerve tingling from that frantic, headlong flight. Then, like the care-free children of Nature that they are, they abandon themselves to their wild sea-sports, outdoing the fabled Nereids. Around them gather in sympathy the gorgeous dolphins, the leisurely sharks, the fun-loving porpoises, while over their heads dart incessantly in arrowy flight glittering squadrons of flying-fish.

So they frolic untiringly until, by one impulse moved, they all dash off to where, outside the enormous headland of black rock which shelters the little bay, the vast and solemn ocean swell comes rolling shoreward, towering higher as it comes, until, meeting the bright beach, it raises itself superbly in one magnificent curve of white, and dashes against the firm-set earth with a deep note as of far-off thunder.

The merry players range themselves in line and swim seaward to meet the next wave as it comes. Diving beneath it they reappear upon its creaming shoulders, and by sheer skill balance there, elated almost beyond bearing by the pace of their mighty steed. Higher and higher they rise, clothed by the hissing foam, until from its summit they spring to land and race to the woods.

Only a breathing space passes, and again they come rushing shoreward to where a mimic fleet of light canoes lies covered with boughs to shield them from the sun. As if time were all important, they fling the leaves aside and rush the frail craft into the water, springing in as they glide afloat. Two by two they sail away, an occasional persuasive touch of the[77] paddles sufficing to guide and propel them whithersoever they will.

The sun is nearing the western edge of their world, and his slanting beams are spreading lavishly over the silken waters broad bands of rich and swiftly changing colour. A hush that is holy is stealing over all things, a stillness so profound that the light splash of a flying-fish tinkles clear as a tiny bell. The happy people float along in a delicious languor, feasting their eyes upon the doubled beauty of the landscape near the shore, where the line dividing the reality from its reflection cannot be discerned.

Beneath them are constantly changing pictures no less lovely, the marvellous surfaces of the living coral with all its wealth of tinted anemones and brilliantly-decked fish of all shapes and all hues. Carried by the imperceptible current, they pass swiftly, silently, from scene to scene, over depths so profound that the waters are almost blue-black, and as suddenly coming upon a submarine grove of rigid coral trees, whose topmost branches nearly break through the placid surface.

Presently the sun is gone, and the tender veil of night comes creeping up from the East. Already the Evening Star, like a minute moon, is sending a long thread of silver over the purpling sea. Beneath the waters the sea-folk have begun their nightly illumination, and overhead are peeping out, one by one, the vedettes of the night. Bird and beast and fish have ceased their play, and a gentle wind arises. The canoes glide shoreward noiselessly, and the voyagers seek through scented pathways their leafy homes.

“Poor fellow, you look a bit stale and overworked! You ought to run down to the seaside for a week!”

And the suddenly-awakened clerk starts up, muttering a half-intelligible apology to his employer, who stands regarding him with a look of pity. But for a few fleeting moments he has been perfectly happy.

From A Sack of Shakings by Frank T. Bullen