Ralph shook his head and increased his speed. Then he tripped over a branch and came down with a crash.
The fat boy stood by him, breathing hard.
“My auntie told me not to run,” he explained, “on account of my asthma.”
“That’s right. Can’t catch my breath[2 - Can’t catch my breath. – Трудно дышать.]. I was the only boy in our school what had asthma,” said the fat boy with a touch of pride. “And I’ve been wearing specs since I was three.”
He took off his glasses and held them out to Ralph, blinking and smiling, and then started to wipe them against his grubby wind-breaker. An expression of pain and inward concentration altered the pale contours of his face. He smeared the sweat from his cheeks and quickly adjusted the spectacles on his nose.
He glanced round the scar.
“Them fruit,” he said, “I expect—”
He put on his glasses, waded away from Ralph, and crouched down among the tangled foliage.
“I’ll be out again in just a minute—”
Ralph disentangled himself cautiously and stole away through the branches. In a few seconds the fat boy’s grunts were behind him and he was hurrying toward the screen that still lay between him and the lagoon. He climbed over a broken trunk and was out of the jungle. The shore was fledged with palm trees. These stood or leaned or reclined against the light and their green feathers were a hundred feet up in the air. The ground beneath them was a bank covered with coarse grass, torn everywhere by the upheavals of fallen trees, scattered with decaying coconuts and palm saplings. Behind this was the darkness of the forest proper and the open space of the scar. Ralph stood, one hand against a grey trunk, and screwed up his eyes against the shimmering water. Out there, perhaps a mile away, the white surf flinked on a coral reef, and beyond that the open sea was dark blue. Within the irregular arc of coral the lagoon was still as a mountain lake—blue of all shades and shadowy green and purple. The beach between the palm terrace and the water was a thin stick, endless apparently, for to Ralph’s left the perspectives of palm and beach and water drew to a point at infinity; and always, almost visible, was the heat.
He jumped down from the terrace. The sand was thick over his black shoes and the heat hit him. He became conscious of the weight of clothes, kicked his shoes off fiercely and ripped off each stocking with its elastic garter in a single movement. Then he leapt back on the terrace, pulled off his shirt, and stood there among the skull-like coconuts with green shadows from the palms and the forest sliding over his skin. He undid the snake-clasp of his belt, lugged off his shorts and pants, and stood there naked, looking at the dazzling beach and the water.
He was old enough, twelve years and a few months, to have lost the prominent tummy of childhood and not yet old enough for adolescence to have made him awkward. You could see now that he might make a boxer, as far as width and heaviness of shoulders went, but there was a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil. He patted the palm trunk softly, and, forced at last to believe in the reality of the island laughed delightedly again and stood on his head. He turned neatly on to his feet, jumped down to the beach, knelt and swept a double armful of sand into a pile against his chest. Then he sat back and looked at the water with bright, excited eyes.
The fat boy lowered himself over the terrace and sat down carefully, using the edge as a seat.
“I’m sorry I been such a time. Them fruit—”
He wiped his glasses and adjusted them on his button nose. The frame had made a deep, pink “V” on the bridge. He looked critically at Ralph’s golden body and then down at his own clothes. He laid a hand on the end of a zipper that extended down his chest.
Then he opened the zipper with decision and pulled the whole wind-breaker over his head.
Ralph looked at him sidelong and said nothing.
“I expect we’ll want to know all their names,” said the fat boy, “and make a list. We ought to have a meeting.”
Ralph did not take the hint so the fat boy was forced to continue.
“I don’t care what they call me,” he said confidentially, “so long as they don’t call me what they used to call me at school.”
Ralph was faintly interested.
“What was that?”
The fat boy glanced over his shoulder, then leaned toward Ralph. He whispered.
“They used to call me ‘Piggy.’”
Ralph shrieked with laughter. He jumped up.
Piggy clasped his hands in apprehension.
“I said I didn’t want—”
Ralph danced out into the hot air of the beach and then returned as a fighter-plane, with wings swept back, and machine-gunned Piggy.
He dived in the sand at Piggy’s feet and lay there laughing.
Piggy grinned reluctantly, pleased despite himself at even this much recognition.
“So long as you don’t tell the others—”
Ralph giggled into the sand. The expression of pain and concentration returned to Piggy’s face.
“Half a sec’.”
He hastened back into the forest. Ralph stood up and trotted along to the right. Here the beach was interrupted abruptly by the square motif of the landscape; a great platform of pink granite thrust up uncompromisingly through forest and terrace and sand and lagoon to make a raised jetty four feet high. The top of this was covered with a thin layer of soil and coarse grass and shaded with young palm trees. There was not enough soil for them to grow to any height and when they reached perhaps twenty feet they fell and dried, forming a criss-cross pattern of trunks, very convenient to sit on. The palms that still stood made a green roof, covered on the underside with a quivering tangle of reflections from the lagoon. Ralph hauled himself onto this platform, noted the coolness and shade, shut one eye, and decided that the shadows on his body were really green. He picked his way to the seaward edge of the platform and stood looking down into the water. It was clear to the bottom and bright with the efflorescence of tropical weed and coral. A school of tiny, glittering fish flicked hither and thither. Ralph spoke to himself, sounding the bass strings of delight.
Beyond the platform there was more enchantment. Some act of God—a typhoon perhaps, or the storm that had accompanied his own arrival—had banked sand inside the lagoon so that there was a long, deep pool in the beach with a high ledge of pink granite at the further end. Ralph had been deceived before now by the specious appearance of depth in a beach pool and he approached this one preparing to be disappointed. But the island ran true to form and the incredible pool, which clearly was only invaded by the sea at high tide, was so deep at one end as to be dark green. Ralph inspected the whole thirty yards carefully and then plunged in. The water was warmer than his blood and he might have been swimming in a huge bath.
Piggy appeared again, sat on the rocky ledge, and watched Ralph’s green and white body enviously.
“You can’t half swim.”
Piggy took off his shoes and socks, ranged them carefully on the ledge, and tested the water with one toe.