Beyond the hollow was the square top of the mountain and soon they were standing on it.
They had guessed before that this was an island: clambering among the pink rocks, with the sea on either side, and the crystal heights of air, they had known by some instinct that the sea lay on every side. But there seemed something more fitting in leaving the last word till they stood on the top, and could see a circular horizon of water.
Ralph turned to the others.
“This belongs to us.”
It was roughly boat-shaped: humped near this end with behind them the jumbled descent to the shore. On either side rocks, cliffs, treetops and a steep slope: forward there, the length of the boat, a tamer descent, tree-clad, with hints of pink: and then the jungly flat of the island, dense green, but drawn at the end to a pink tail. There, where the island petered out in water, was another island; a rock, almost detached, standing like a fort, facing them across the green with one bold, pink bastion.
The boys surveyed all this, then looked out to sea. They were high up and the afternoon had advanced; the view was not robbed of sharpness by mirage.
“That’s a reef. A coral reef. I’ve seen pictures like that.”
The reef enclosed more than one side of the island, lying perhaps a mile out and parallel to what they now thought of as their beach. The coral was scribbled in the sea as though a giant had bent down to reproduce the shape of the island in a flowing chalk line but tired before he had finished. Inside was peacock water, rocks and weeds showing as in an aquarium; outside was the dark blue of the sea. The tide was running so that long streaks of foam tailed away from the reef and for a moment they felt that the boat was moving steadily astern.
Jack pointed down.
“That’s where we landed.”
Beyond falls and cliffs there was a gash visible in the trees; there were the splintered trunks and then the drag, leaving only a fringe of palm between the scar and the sea. There, too, jutting into the lagoon, was the platform, with insect-like figures moving near it.
Ralph sketched a twining line from the bald spot on which they stood down a slope, a gully, through flowers, round and down to the rock where the scar started.
“That’s the quickest way back.”
Eyes shining, mouths open, triumphant, they savored the right of domination. They were lifted up: were friends.
“There’s no village smoke, and no boats,” said Ralph wisely. “We’ll make sure later; but I think it’s uninhabited.”
“We’ll get food,” cried Jack. “Hunt. Catch things. Until they fetch us.”
Simon looked at them both, saying nothing but nodding till his black hair flopped backwards and forwards: his face was glowing.
Ralph looked down the other way where there was no reef.
“Steeper,” said Jack.
Ralph made a cupping gesture.
“That bit of forest down there … the mountain holds it up.”
Every point of the mountain held up trees—flowers and trees. Now the forest stirred, roared, flailed. The nearer acres of rock flowers fluttered and for half a minute the breeze blew cool on their faces.
Ralph spread his arms.
They laughed and tumbled and shouted on the mountain.
When Simon mentioned his hunger the others became aware of theirs.
“Come on,” said Ralph. “We’ve found out what we wanted to know.”
They scrambled down a rock slope, dropped among flowers and made their way under the trees. Here they paused and examined the bushes round them curiously.
Simon spoke first.
“Like candles. Candle bushes. Candle buds.”
The bushes were dark evergreen and aromatic and the many buds were waxen green and folded up against the light. Jack slashed at one with his knife and the scent spilled over them.
“You couldn’t light them,” said Ralph. “They just look like candles.”
“Green candles,” said Jack contemptuously. “We can’t eat them. Come on.”
They were in the beginnings of the thick forest, plonking with weary feet on a track, when they heard the noises—squeakings—and the hard strike of hoofs on a path. As they pushed forward the squeaking increased till it became a frenzy. They found a piglet caught in a curtain of creepers, throwing itself at the elastic traces in all the madness of extreme terror. Its voice was thin, needle-sharp and insistent; The three boys rushed forward and Jack drew his knife again with a flourish. He raised his arm in the air. There came a pause, a hiatus, the pig continued to scream and the creepers to jerk, and the blade continued to flash at the end of a bony arm. The pause was only long enough for them to understand what an enormity the downward stroke would be. Then the piglet tore loose from the creepers and scurried into the undergrowth. They were left looking at each other and the place of terror. Jack’s face was white under the freckles. He noticed that he still held the knife aloft and brought his arm down replacing the blade in the sheath. Then they all three laughed ashamedly and began to climb back to the track.
“I was choosing a place,” said Jack. “I was just waiting for a moment to decide where to stab him.”
“You should stick a pig,” said Ralph fiercely. “They always talk about sticking a pig.”
“You cut a pig’s throat to let the blood out,” said Jack, “otherwise you can’t eat the meat.”
“Why didn’t you—?”
They knew very well why he hadn’t: because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood.
“I was going to,” said Jack. He was ahead of them, and they could not see his face. “I was choosing a place. Next time—!”
He snatched his knife out of the sheath and slammed it into a tree trunk. Next time there would be no mercy. He looked round fiercely, daring them to contradict. Then they broke out into the sunlight and for a while they were busy finding and devouring food as they moved down the scar toward the platform and the meeting.
Fire on the Mountain
By the time Ralph finished blowing the conch the platform was crowded. There were differences between this meeting and the one held in the morning. The afternoon sun slanted in from the other side of the platform and most of the children, feeling too late the smart of sunburn, had put their clothes on. The choir, less of a group, had discarded their cloaks.
Ralph sat on a fallen trunk, his left side to the sun. On his right were most of the choir; on his left the larger boys who had not known each other before the evacuation; before him small children squatted in the grass.
Silence now. Ralph lifted the cream and pink shell to his knees and a sudden breeze scattered light over the platform. He was uncertain whether to stand up or remain sitting. He looked sideways to his left, toward the bathing pool. Piggy was sitting near but giving no help.
Ralph cleared his throat.