Piggy paused for breath and stroked the glistening thing that lay in Ralph's hands.
Ralph looked up.
"We can use this to call the others. Have a meeting. They'll come when they hear us―"
He beamed at Ralph.
"That was what you meant, didn't you? That's why you got the conch out of the water?"
Ralph pushed back his fair hair.
"How did your friend blow the conch?"
"He kind of spat," said Piggy. "My auntie wouldn't let me blow on account of my asthma. He said you blew from down here." Piggy laid a hand on his jutting abdomen. "You try, Ralph. You'll call the others."
Doubtfully, Ralph laid the small end of the shell against his mouth and blew. There came a rushing sound from its mouth but nothing more. Ralph wiped the salt water off his lips and tried again, but the shell remained silent.
"He kind of spat."
Ralph pursed his lips and squirted air into the shell, which emitted a low, farting noise. This amused both boys so much that Ralph went on squirting for some minutes, between bouts of laughter.
"He blew from down here."
Ralph grasped the idea and hit the shell with air from his diaphragm. Immediately the thing sounded. A deep, harsh note boomed under the palms, spread through the intricacies of the forest and echoed back from the pink granite of the mountain. Clouds of birds rose from the treetops, and something squealed and ran in the undergrowth.
Ralph took the shell away from his lips.
His ordinary voice sounded like a whisper after the harsh note of the conch. He laid the conch against his lips, took a deep breath and blew once more. The note boomed again: and then at his firmer pressure, the note, fluking up an octave, became a strident blare more penetrating than before. Piggy was shouting something, his face pleased, his glasses flashing. The birds cried, small animals scuttered. Ralph's breath failed; the note dropped the octave, became a low wubber, was a rush of air.
The conch was silent, a gleaming tusk; Ralph's face was dark with breathlessness and the air over the island was full of bird-clamor and echoes ringing.
"I bet you can hear that for miles."
Ralph found his breath and blew a series of short blasts.
Piggy exclaimed: "There's one!"
A child had appeared among the palms, about a hundred yards along the beach. He was a boy of perhaps six years, sturdy and fair, his clothes torn, his face covered with a sticky mess of fruit. His trousers had been lowered for an obvious purpose and had only been pulled back half-way. He jumped off the palm terrace into the sand and his trousers fell about his ankles; he stepped out of them and trotted to the platform. Piggy helped him up. Meanwhile Ralph continued to blow till voices shouted in the forest. The small boy squatted in front of Ralph, looking up brightly and vertically. As he received the reassurance of something purposeful being done he began to look satisfied, and his only clean digit, a pink thumb, slid into his mouth.
Piggy leaned down to him.
"What's yer name?"
Piggy muttered the name to himself and then shouted it to Ralph, who was not interested because he was still blowing. His face was dark with the violent pleasure of making this stupendous noise, and his heart was making the stretched shirt shake. The shouting in the forest was nearer.
Signs of life were visible now on the beach. The sand, trembling beneath the heat haze, concealed many figures in its miles of length; boys were making their way toward the platform through the hot, dumb sand. Three small children, no older than Johnny, appeared from startlingly close at hand, where they had been gorging fruit in the forest. A dark little boy, not much younger than Piggy, parted a tangle of undergrowth, walked on to the platform, and smiled cheerfully at everybody. More and more of them came. Taking their cue from the innocent Johnny, they sat down on the fallen palm trunks and waited. Ralph continued to blow short, penetrating blasts. Piggy moved among the crowd, asking names and frowning to remember them. The children gave him the same simple obedience that they had given to the men with megaphones. Some were naked and carrying their clothes; others half-naked, or more or less dressed, in school uniforms, grey, blue, fawn, jacketed, or jerseyed. There were badges, mottoes even, stripes of color in stockings and pullovers. Their heads clustered above the trunks in the green shade; heads brown, fair, black, chestnut, sandy, mouse-colored; heads muttering, whispering, heads full of eyes that watched Ralph and speculated. Something was being done.
The children who came along the beach, singly or in twos, leapt into visibility when they crossed the line from heat haze to nearer sand. Here, the eye was first attracted to a black, bat-like creature that danced on the sand, and only later perceived the body above it. The bat was the child's shadow, shrunk by the vertical sun to a patch between the hurrying feet. Even while he blew, Ralph noticed the last pair of bodies that reached the platform above a fluttering patch of black. The two boys, bullet-headed and with hair like tow, flung themselves down and lay grinning and panting at Ralph like dogs. They were twins, and the eye was shocked and incredulous at such cheery duplication. They breathed together, they grinned together, they were chunky and vital. They raised wet lips at Ralph, for they seemed provided with not quite enough skin, so that their profiles were blurred and their mouths pulled open. Piggy bent his flashing glasses to them and could be heard between the blasts, repeating their names.
"Sam, Eric, Sam, Eric."
Then he got muddled; the twins shook their heads and pointed at each other and the crowd laughed.
At last Ralph ceased to blow and sat there, the conch trailing from one hand, his head bowed on his knees. As the echoes died away so did the laughter, and there was silence.
Within the diamond haze of the beach something dark was fumbling along. Ralph saw it first, and watched till the intentness of his gaze drew all eyes that way. Then the creature stepped from mirage on to clear sand, and they saw that the darkness was not all shadow but mostly clothing. The creature was a party of boys, marching approximately in step in two parallel lines and dressed in strangely eccentric clothing. Shorts, shirts, and different garments they carried in their hands; but each boy wore a square black cap with a silver badge on it. Their bodies, from throat to ankle, were hidden by black cloaks which bore a long silver cross on the left breast and each neck was finished off with a hambone frill. The heat of the tropics, the descent, the search for food, and now this sweaty march along the blazing beach had given them the complexions of newly washed plums. The boy who controlled them was dressed in the same way though his cap badge was golden. When his party was about ten yards from the platform he shouted an order and they halted, gasping, sweating, swaying in the fierce light. The boy himself came forward, vaulted on to the platform with his cloak flying, and peered into what to him was almost complete darkness.
"Where's the man with the trumpet?"
Ralph, sensing his sun-blindness, answered him.
"There's no man with a trumpet. Only me."
The boy came close and peered down at Ralph, screwing up his face as he did so. What he saw of the fair-haired boy with the creamy shell on his knees did not seem to satisfy him. He turned quickly, his black cloak circling.
"Isn't there a ship, then?"
Inside the floating cloak he was tall, thin, and bony; and his hair was red beneath the black cap. His face was crumpled and freckled, and ugly without silliness. Out of this face stared two light blue eyes, frustrated now, and turning, or ready to turn, to anger.
"Isn't there a man here?"
Ralph spoke to his back.
"No. We're having a meeting. Come and join in."
The group of cloaked boys began to scatter from close line. The tall boy shouted at them.
"Choir! Stand still!"
Wearily obedient, the choir huddled into line and stood there swaying in the sun. None the less, some began to protest faintly.
"But, Merridew. Pl
ease, Merridew... can't we?"
Then one of the boys flopped on his face in the sand and the line broke up. They heaved the fallen boy to the platform and let him lie. Merridew, his eyes staring, made the best of a bad job.
"All right then. Sit down. Let him alone."
"He's always throwing a faint," said Merridew. "He did in Gib.; and Addis; and at matins over the precentor."
This last piece of shop brought sniggers from the choir, who perched like black birds on the criss-cross trunks and examined Ralph with interest. Piggy asked no names. He was intimidated by this uniformed superiority and the offhand authority in Merridew's voice. He shrank to the other side of Ralph and busied himself with his glasses.
Merridew turned to Ralph.
"Aren't there any grownups?"
Merridew sat down on a trunk and looked round the circle.
"Then we'll have to look after ourselves."
Secure on the other side of Ralph, Piggy spoke timidly.
"That's why Ralph made a meeting. So as we can decide what to do. We've heard names. That's Johnny. Those two―they're twins, Sam 'n Eric. Which is Eric―? You? No―you're Sam―"
"'n I'm Eric."
"We'd better all have names," said Ralph, "so I'm Ralph."
"We got most names," said Piggy. "Got 'em just now."
"Kids' names," said Merridew. "Why should I be Jack? I'm Merridew."
Ralph turned to him quickly. This was the voice of one who knew his own mind.
"Then," went on Piggy, "that boy―I forget―"
"You're talking too much," said Jack Merridew. "Shut up, Fatty."
"He's not Fatty," cried Ralph, "his real name's Piggy!"
A storm of laughter arose and even the tiniest child joined in. For the moment the boys were a closed circuit of sympathy with Piggy outside: he went very pink, bowed his head and cleaned his glasses again.
Finally the laughter died away and the naming continued. There was Maurice, next in size among the choir boys to Jack, but broad and grinning all the time. There was a slight, furtive boy whom no one knew, who kept to himself with an inner intensity of avoidance and secrecy. He muttered that his name was Roger and was silent again. Bill, Robert, Harold, Henry; the choir boy who had fainted sat up against a palm trunk, smiled pallidly at Ralph and said that his name was Simon.
"We've got to decide about being rescued."
There was a buzz. One of the small boys, Henry, said that he wanted to go home.
"Shut up," said Ralph absently. He lifted the conch. "Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things."
"A chief! A chief!"
"I ought to be chief," said Jack with simple arrogance, "because I'm chapter chorister and head boy. I can sing C sharp."
"Well then," said Jack, "I―"
He hesitated. The dark boy, Roger, stirred at last and spoke up.
"Let's have a vote."
"Vote for chief!"
This toy of voting was almost as pleasing as the conch. Jack started to protest but the clamor changed from the general wish for a chief to an election by acclaim of Ralph himself. None of the boys could have found good reason for this; what intelligence had been shown was traceable to Piggy while the most obvious leader was Jack. But there was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there was the conch. The being that had blown that, had sat waiting for them on the platform with the delicate thing balanced on his knees, was set apart.
"Him with the shell."
"Let him be chief with the trumpet-thing."
Ralph raised a hand for silence.
"All right. Who wants Jack for chief?"
With dreary obedience the choir raised their hands.
"Who wants me?"
Every hand outside the choir except Piggy's was raised immediately. Then Piggy, too, raised his hand grudgingly into the air.
"I'm chief then."
The circle of boys broke into applause. Even the choir applauded; and the freckles on Jack's face disappeared under a blush of mortification. He started up, then changed his mind and sat down again while the air rang. Ralph looked at him, eager to offer something.
"The choir belongs to you, of course."
"They could be the army―"
"They could be―"
The suffusion drained away from Jack's face. Ralph waved again for silence.
"Jack's in charge of the choir. They can be―what do you want them to be?"
Jack and Ralph smiled at each other with shy liking. The rest began to talk eagerly.
Jack stood up.
"All right, choir. Take off your togs."
As if released from class, the choir boys stood up, chattered, piled their black cloaks on the grass. Jack laid his on the trunk by Ralph. His grey shorts were sticking to him with sweat. Ralph glanced at them admiringly, and when Jack saw his glance he explained.
"I tried to get over that hill to see if there was water all round. But your shell called us."
Ralph smiled and held up the conch for silence.
"Listen, everybody. I've got to have time to think things out. I can't decide what to do straight off. If this isn't an island we might be rescued straight away. So we've got to decide if this is an island. Everybody must stay round here and wait and not go away. Three of us―if we take more we'd get all mixed, and lose each other―three of us will go on an expedition and find out. I'll go, and Jack, and, and..."
He looked round the circle of eager faces. There was no lack of boys to choose from.
The boys round Simon giggled, and he stood up, laughing a little. Now that the pallor of his faint was over, he was a skinny, vivid little boy, with a glance coming up from under a hut of straight hair that hung down, black and coarse.
He nodded at Ralph.
Jack snatched from behind him a sizable sheath-knife and clouted it into a trunk. The buzz rose and died away.
Ralph turned to him.
"You're no good on a job like this."
"All the same―"
"We don't want you," said Jack, flatly. "Three's enough."
Piggy's glasses flashed.
"I was with him when he found the conch. I was with him before anyone else was."
Jack and the others paid no attention. There was a general dispersal. Ralph, Jack and Simon jumped off the platform and walked along the sand past the bathing pool. Piggy hung bumbling behind them.
"If Simon walks in the middle of us," said Ralph, "then we could talk over his head."
The three of them fell into step. This meant that every now and then Simon had to do a double shuffle to catch up with the others. Presently Ralph stopped and turned back to Piggy.
Jack and Simon pretended to notice nothing. They walked on.
"You can't come."
Piggy's glasses were misted again―this time with humiliation.
"You told 'em. After what I said."
His face flushed, his mouth trembled.
"After I said I didn't want―"
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"About being called Piggy. I said I didn't care as long as they didn't call me Piggy; an' I said not to tell and then you went an' said straight out―"
Stillness descended on them. Ralph, looking with more understanding at Piggy, saw that he was hurt and crushed. He hovered between the two courses
of apology or further insult.
"Better Piggy than Fatty," he said at last, with the directness of genuine leadership, "and anyway, I'm sorry if you feel like that. Now go back, Piggy, and take names. That's your job. So long."
He turned and raced after the other two. Piggy stood and the rose of indignation faded slowly from his cheeks. He went back to the platform.
The three boys walked briskly on the sand. The tide was low and there was a strip of weed-strewn beach that was almost as firm as a road. A kind of glamour was spread over them and the scene and they were conscious of the glamour and made happy by it. They turned to each other, laughing excitedly, talking, not listening. The air was bright. Ralph, faced by the task of translating all this into an explanation, stood on his head and fell over. When they had done laughing, Simon stroked Ralph's arm shyly; and they had to laugh again.
"Come on," said Jack presently, "we're explorers."
"We'll go to the end of the island," said Ralph, "and look round the corner."
"If it is an island―"
Now, toward the end of the afternoon, the mirages were settling a little. They found the end of the island, quite distinct, and not magicked out of shape or sense. There was a jumble of the usual squareness, with one great block sitting out in the lagoon. Sea birds were nesting there.
"Like icing," said Ralph, "on a pink cake."
"We shan't see round this corner," said Jack, "because there isn't one. Only a slow curve―and you can see, the rocks get worse―"
Ralph shaded his eyes and followed the jagged outline of the crags up toward the mountain. This part of the beach was nearer the mountain than any other that they had seen.
"We'll try climbing the mountain from here," he said. "I should think this is the easiest way. There's less of that jungly stuff; and more pink rock. Come on."
The three boys began to scramble up. Some unknown force had wrenched and shattered these cubes so that they lay askew, often piled diminishingly on each other. The most usual feature of the rock was a pink cliff surmounted by a skewed block; and that again surmounted, and that again, till the pinkness became a stack of balanced rock projecting through the looped fantasy of the forest creepers. Where the pink cliffs rose out of the ground there were often narrow tracks winding upwards. They could edge along them, deep in the plant world, their faces to the rock.