Last Leaves from Dunk Island, by E. J. Banfield

Tropic Glory

Last evening (March 6, 1921) we saw the very gates of heaven. Those who live under sullen skies seldom have a chance of seeing the majestic paintings of the sun; but here, where hills and sea and sky are the mediums in which a tropical sun plays fantastic tricks of bewildering variety, you become accustomed to, though never satiated by, the glories of The Beyond.

All day it had been scorching hot — that kind of hotness that tingles the small of the back and adds two shades of brown to the shoulders during the sun-bath following the noontide wallow in the sea. I had spent an unclad hour clearing away loose coral from one of the favourite runs of the little fishing-net, and had cooled down in the sparkling, noisy streamlet that the wet season stimulates and freshens. That loll in the fragrant water — it comes down the palm — and fern-tree-embowered ravine — created an appetite for lunch, and afterwards influenced a dreamy while of reading.

When I really woke and began to stroll among the mango-trees, the western half of the sky, or rather a big area of it, was sullen — thickly, diabolically blue, as if reeking with fumes from hell. Beneath was a zone of curry-coloured sky, outlining ranges almost black in the intensity of blue.

Away aloft, so high that a backward tilt of the head was necessary, the cloud-bank was edged with light as ineffably variable as the shadows over a wheat-field on a breezy day. Soon rainbow tints, appearing, disappearing and reappearing magically in detached flakes and patches, and severed by purple rays, hovered and flitted over and along the cloud. Occasionally lightning zig-zagged horizontally across the densest part, and you could just catch the mutterings of thunder.

A great patch of yellow light sprang from the middle of the upper edge of the dusky cloud, like the half of an enormous nimbus, glowing and glittering. Then, with the gentlest of gradations, its yellow gave way to other primary colours, delicately displayed and quivering with fairy-like agitations. A huge ravine opened up, a valley through rainbow-land, leading to a wall as ruddy as imagination may paint, and embossed with a pearl as great as a house.

Twice appeared a strange shape. Picture a bird soaring in a huge, circling flight from north to south, hidden by the cloud-screen save for one fully-extended wing, and that wing displaying bands of blending tints of gold and green and silvery rose, with feather-tips of sepia, fluffy and breathlessly soft. Picture the wing wavering and slowly vanishing, until the final feather seemed the shadow of a golden plume and as slowly reappearing in all its magnificence — inspiring the hope that the glorious bird of Paradise would emerge and be seen soaring in its proper sphere at the gate of heaven.

All the ships, the ragged remnants, the fragments and frayings of all the rainbows of the most decorative of wet seasons, skirted the cloud or were tossed about in luminous heaps; and then the scene burnt itself out in extravagant redness, leaving the Isle in a lurid gloom, and its inhabitants stiff-necked, but with a rare joy at heart.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32