Yet to be poor on that island did not compel a sordid narrowing of life. You would have found our living-room furnished in mahogany rich and old. In a corner where the airs came in by a great window stood a jar big enough to hide in, into which trickled a cool thread of water from a huge dripping-stone, while above these a shelf held native waterpots whose yellow and crimson surfaces were constantly pearled with dew oozing through the porous ware. On a low press near by was piled the remnant of father’s library, and on the ancient sideboard were silver candlesticks, snuffers, and crystal shades.
But it was neither these things nor cherished traditions that gave the room its finest charm. It was filled with the glory of the sea. There was no need of painted pictures. Living nature hung framed in wide high windows through which drifted in the distant boom of surf on the rocks, and salt breezes perfumed with cassia.
Outside, round about, there was far more. A broad door led by a flight of stone steps to the couchlike roots of a gigantic turpentine-tree whose deep shade harbored birds of every hue. To me, sitting there, the island’s old Carib name of Aye-Aye seemed the eternal consent of God to some seraph asking for this ocean pearl. All that poet or prophet had ever said of heaven became comprehensible in its daily transfigurations of light and color scintillated between wave, landscape, and cloud—its sea like unto crystal, and the trees bearing all manner of fruits. Grace and fragrance everywhere: fruits crimson, gold, and purple; fishes blue, orange, pink; shells of rose and pearl. Distant hills, clouds of sunset and dawn, sky and stream, leaf and flower, bird and butterfly, repeated the splendor, while round all palpitated the wooing rhythm of the sea’s mysterious tides.
The beach! Along its landward edge the plumed palms stood sentinel, rustling to the lipping waters and to the curious note of the Thibet-trees, sounding their long dry pods like castanets in the evening breeze. By the water’s margin, and in its shoals and depths, what treasures of the underworld! Here a sponge, with stem bearing five cups; there a sea-fan, large enough for a Titan’s use yet delicate enough to be a mermaid’s. Red-lipped shells; mystical eye-stones; shell petals heaped in rocky nooks like rose leaves; and, moving among these in grotesque leisure, crabs of a brilliance and variety to tax the painter. All the rector told of a fallen world seemed but idle words when the sunset glory was too much for human vision and the young heart trembled before its ineffable suggestions.