Tropic Days, by E. J. Banfield

The Lost Isle

“Some unsuspected Isle in far-off seas.”

BROWNING.

In a region of rare serenity it lay — a blue stud on a silver shield — aloof from other lands — unmapped, untarnished, pure, gleaming in the dawn of exultant day.

Emblem of perfection, its charms were imperative, partly because of remoteness from the taint of man-trodden land, mainly because, by right of discovery, it was joyfully mine. Could anything be more desirable than such a blending of jungle-clad mountains, verdurous hills, sheltered valleys, orange-tinted beaches, with the shadows of white headlands staining the sea purple?

An all-comprehending glance revealed the Isle in the shape of a five-rayed star, each ray irregularly serrated. Here was promise of many a landlocked cove to which the breathings of the sea would be foreign. Unsalted streams wound among the foothills of the central mountain, whence a spire of rose-red porphyry shot into the luminous sky from unbroken jungle, the superficies of which were soft and brilliant as sodden moss.

Some of the valleys showed in succession ever-green, flower-bedecked glades, with great trees and blossoming shrubs in scattered clumps and patches, among which sinuous ribbons of jungle denoted the courses of deep hidden streams. Others were merely precipitous depressions in the unbroken mass of foliage, variegated with aspiring palms so slender of shaft that their unceasing swaying in the still air seemed an act of unconscious affectation for the display of huge bunches of gaudy fruit, seductive and dulcet to the taste. Spider-webbed tree-ferns with furry, water-bespangled trunks stood in crowded groves on the brink of spray-creating cascades and along the margins of cool rivulets which murmured as they hurried to the sea.

Water-dripping moss padded the lintels of grottos, before which dangled translucent ferns of delicate form, yet so rich and intense with life that crozier-tipped fronds took the hue of flowers — coral-red, golden-bronze, and yellow; while golden dust clung to hairy undersides like pollen to the thighs of hive-returning bees. Deep in perpetual shadow lived a shy plant with heart-shaped leaves, so succulent and distended as to resemble green capsules, and in association with each leaf was a single semi-transparent fruit, pink with a central glow like the fire of opal, but so frail that upon touch it resolved into a dewdrop which glistened, trembled, and was gone in a moment.

In the full blaze, feather-foliaged trees crowned with gigantic red blossoms offered as a sacrifice fruit which blushed before the insistent gaze of the sun; while beneath this gay canopy vine and creeper and pliant shrub wove an undergarment which screened the moist earth and created a realm of subdued light in which all the flowers were pale of tint and tremulously fragile, though of almost forbidding magnitude of form.

Birds of painted plumage and loud and sonorous note sang and fluttered among the flowers and fruit with no ill thing to disturb them, no dissonance to compel them to silence and fear.

Whithersoever I gazed, the lone and lovely Isle denoted a paradise of unkempt vegetation, unfeared birds. No stump was there to betray the passing of the devastating axe. No footprint except that of birds — erratic, rectangular, scribbling — dented the sand. No human being had ever visited those groves perfumed by orchids, gauzy as the wings of the butterflies which poised over them and sipped the nectar stored in their slender throats.

Each bay and inlet and cove differed in delightsomeness. Unsoiled, weedless sand littered with shells floored this deep and sheltered nook, where shadow and substance blended to the complete deceit of the closest scrutiny. The next was as a garden of shrubs with living blossoms and fruit in strange shapes and gaudy colours. Many of the subaqueous plants expanded and retracted their blossoms harmoniously, as if to the strains of music audible only to the mute denizens of the sea — a measured, waving dance, fantastic and wondrously beautiful. Crystalline clearness magnified the detail of the next, the portals of which were coral, dyed extravagantly and variously according to the secret of the sea, with its inexhaustible chemicals. Fish in unimaginable shapes, fantastic hues, and sea-things harmless and educative to the sight, roamed the coral gardens, retiring at will into sapphire-blue caverns or flashing in the clearness with lightning speed and scarce visible effort. Cream and yellow, old gold, blue, pink and lavender, the corals flourished in myriad shapes. Anemones, large as plates, royal blue and greyish-green, and each bristling with thousands of independent activities, embossed snow-white blocks.

Opening out into an oval basin, the inlet was again constricted, the bottle-neck entrance to a perfect haven being guarded by huge masses of limestone, weathered grotesquely, from the crevices of which sprays of peach-coloured orchids quivered, while the flora of land and sea commingled on the lustrous surface. Beyond again, the inlet wound round the base of it cliff vocal with the fugue of birds which flew from flowery parapet to flowery parapet.

Gradually the cliffs retreated, leaving fair banks with shrubs and great trees with branches pendulous over unbroken placidity, and there, on a knoll, stood a palm, rigid and straight as a column, crowned with shimmering fronds which shielded masses of nuts, brown and green, and great sprays of straw-coloured infloresence. More palms beyond, thick-set; and beyond again an avenue in perfect alignment, each tree perfect in stately form, with one blotch of glorious purple — as high and compact as a church — to block the diminished distance.

The boat drifted to the landing never touched by foot of man. Lost in admiration of the imposing and manifold perfections of the Isle, eager to wander at will among those enticing glades, and to make festival with their genial gods, I stepped out — and into nothingness!

Can it be that never again shall be discovered in the Land of Dreams the Lost Isle?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/banfield/ej/b21td/chapter12.html

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