She laughed—her low, sweet, silvery laugh, the like of which I have hardly heard among Earthly women, even of the simpler, more child-like races of the East and South; a laugh still stranger in a world where childhood is seldom bright and womanhood mostly sad and fretful. Of the very few satisfactory memories I bore away from that world, the sweetest is the recollection of that laugh, which I heard for the first time on the morrow of our bridals, and for the last time on the day before we parted. I cherish it as evidence that, despite many and bitter troubles, my bride’s short married life was not wholly unhappy. By this time she had found out that we had left the surface, and began to remonstrate.
“Nay, I have seen all I care to see, my own. I confess the justice of your claim, as the partner of my life, to be the partner of its paramount purpose. You are more precious to me than all the discoveries of which I ever dreamed, and I will not for any purpose whatsoever expose you to real peril or serious pain. But henceforth I will ask you to bear discomfort and inconvenience when the object is worth it, and to help me wherever your help can avail.”
“I can help you?”
“Much, and in many ways, my Eveena. You will soon learn to understand what I wish to examine and the use of the instruments I employ; and then you will be the most useful of assistants, as you are the best and most welcome of companions.”
As I spoke a soft colour suffused her face, and her eyes brightened with a joy and contentment such as no promise of pleasure or indulgence could have inspired. To be the partner of adventure and hardship, the drudge in toil and sentinel in peril, was the boon she claimed, the best guerdon I could promise. If but the promise might have been better fulfilled!
It was not till in latitude 9 deg. S. we emerged into the open ocean, and presently found ourselves free from the currents of the narrow waters, that, in order to see the remarkable island of which I had caught sight in my descent, I requested Ergimo to remain for some hours above the surface. The island rises directly out of the sea, and is absolutely unascendible. Balloons, however, render access possible, both to its summit and to its cave-pierced sides. It is the home of enormous flocks of white birds, which resemble in form the heron rather than the eider duck, but which, like the latter, line with down drawn from their own breasts the nests which, counted by millions, occupy every nook and cranny of the crystalline walls, about ten miles in circumference. Each of the nests is nearly as large as that of the stork. They are made of a jelly digested from the bones of the fish upon which the birds prey, and are almost as white in colour as the birds themselves. Freshly formed nest dissolved in hot water makes dishes as much to the taste of Martialists as the famous bird-nest soup to that of the Chinese. Both down and nests, therefore, are largely plundered; but the birds are never injured, and care is taken in robbing them to leave enough of the outer portion of the nest to constitute a bed for the eggs, and encourage the creatures to rebuild and reline it.