The assembly was silent.
Ralph lifted the conch again and his good humor came back as he thought of what he had to say next.
“Now we come to the most important thing. I’ve been thinking. I was thinking while we were climbing the mountain.” He flashed a conspiratorial grin at the other two. “And on the beach just now. This is what I thought. We want to have fun. And we want to be rescued.”
The passionate noise of agreement from the assembly hit him like a wave and he lost his thread. He thought again.
“We want to be rescued; and of course we shall be rescued.”
Voices babbled. The simple statement, unbacked by any proof but the weight of Ralph’s new authority, brought light and happiness. He had to wave the conch before he could make them hear him.
“My father’s in the Navy. He said there aren’t any unknown islands left. He says the Queen has a big room full of maps and all the islands in the world are drawn there. So the Queen’s got a picture of this island.”
Again came the sounds of cheerfulness and better heart.
“And sooner or later a ship will put in here. It might even be Daddy’s ship. So you see, sooner or later, we shall be rescued.”
He paused, with the point made. The assembly was lifted toward safety by his words. They liked and now respected him. Spontaneously they began to clap and presently the platform was loud with applause. Ralph flushed, looking sideways at Piggy’s open admiration, and then the other way at Jack who was smirking and showing that he too knew how to clap.
Ralph waved the conch.
“Shut up! Wait! Listen!”
He went on in the silence, borne on his triumph.
“There’s another thing. We can help them to find us. If a ship comes near the island they may not notice us. So we must make smoke on top of the mountain. We must make a fire.”
“A fire! Make a fire!”
At once half the boys were on their feet. Jack clamored among them, the conch forgotten.
“Come on! Follow me!”
The space under the palm trees was full of noise and movement. Ralph was on his feet too, shouting for quiet, but no one heard him. All at once the crowd swayed toward the island and was gone—following Jack. Even the tiny children went and did their best among the leaves and broken branches. Ralph was left, holding the conch, with no one but Piggy.
Piggy’s breathing was quite restored.
“Like kids!” he said scornfully. “Acting like a crowd of kids!”
Ralph looked at him doubtfully and laid the conch on the tree trunk.
“I bet it’s gone tea-time,” said Piggy. “What do they think they’re going to do on that mountain?”
He caressed the shell respectfully, then stopped and looked up.
“Ralph! Hey! Where you going?”
Ralph was already clambering over the first smashed swathes of the scar. A long way ahead of him was crashing and laughter.
Piggy watched him in disgust.
“Like a crowd of kids—”
He sighed, bent, and laced up his shoes. The noise of the errant assembly faded up the mountain. Then, with the martyred expression of a parent who has to keep up with the senseless ebullience of the children, he picked up the conch, turned toward the forest, and began to pick his way over the tumbled scar.
* * *
Below the other side of the mountain top was a platform of forest. Once more Ralph found himself making the cupping gesture.
“Down there we could get as much wood as we want.”
Jack nodded and pulled at his underlip. Starting perhaps a hundred feet below them on the steeper side of the mountain, the patch might have been designed expressly for fuel. Trees, forced by the damp heat, found too little soil for full growth, fell early and decayed: creepers cradled them, and new saplings searched a way up.
Jack turned to the choir, who stood ready. Their black caps of maintenance were slid over one ear like berets.
“We’ll build a pile. Come on.”
They found the likeliest path down and began tugging at the dead wood. And the small boys who had reached the top came sliding too till everyone but Piggy was busy. Most of the wood was so rotten that when they pulled, it broke up into a shower of fragments and woodlice and decay; but some trunks came out in one piece. The twins, Sam ’n Eric, were the first to get a likely log but they could do nothing till Ralph, Jack, Simon, Roger and Maurice found room for a hand-hold. Then they inched the grotesque dead thing up the rock and toppled it over on top. Each party of boys added a quota, less or more, and the pile grew. At the return Ralph found himself alone on a limb with Jack and they grinned at each other, sharing this burden. Once more, amid the breeze, the shouting, the slanting sunlight on the high mountain, was shed that glamour, that strange invisible light of friendship, adventure, and content.
“Almost too heavy.”
Jack grinned back.
“Not for the two of us.”
Together, joined in an effort by the burden, they staggered up the last steep of the mountain. Together, they chanted One! Two! Three! and crashed the log on to the great pile. Then they stepped back, laughing with triumphant pleasure, so that immediately Ralph had to stand on his head. Below them, boys were still laboring, though some of the small ones had lost interest and were searching this new forest for fruit. Now the twins, with unsuspected intelligence, came up the mountain with armfuls of dried leaves and dumped them against the pile. One by one, as they sensed that the pile was complete, the boys stopped going back for more and stood, with the pink, shattered top of the mountain around them. Breath came evenly by now, and sweat dried.
Ralph and Jack looked at each other while society paused about them. The shameful knowledge grew in them and they did not know how to begin confession.
Ralph spoke first, crimson in the face.
“Will you?” He cleared his throat and went on. “Will you light the fire?”
Now the absurd situation was open, Jack blushed too. He began to mutter vaguely.
“You rub two sticks. You rub—”
He glanced at Ralph, who blurted out the last confession of incompetence.
“Has anyone got any matches?”
“You make a bow and spin the arrow,” said Roger. He rubbed his hands in mime. “Psss. Psss.”
A little air was moving over the mountain. Piggy came with it, in shorts and shirt, laboring cautiously out of the forest with the evening sunlight gleaming from his glasses. He held the conch under his arm.
Ralph shouted at him.
“Piggy! Have you got any matches?”