Margaret Fernandez, whose room Emily was sharing, slipped out of bed silently and stood beside her, wrinkling the short nose in her pallid face.
“Good morning,” said Emily politely.
“Smells like an earthquake,” said Margaret, and dressed.
Not a breath of breeze even yet ruffled the water: yet momentarily it trembled of its own accord, shattering the reﬂections: then was glassy again. On that the children held their breath, waiting for it to happen.
A school of ﬁsh, terriﬁed by some purely submarine event, thrust their heads right out of the water, squattering across the bay in an arrowy rush, dashing up sparkling ripples with the tiny heave of their shoulders: yet after each disturbance all was soon like hardest, dark, thick, glass.
Once things vibrated slightly, like a chair in a concertroom: and again there was that mysterious winging, though there was nothing visible beneath the swollen iridescent stars.
Then it came. The water of the bay began to ebb away, as if some one had pulled up the plug: a foot or so of sand and coral gleamed for a moment new to the air: then back the sea rushed in miniature rollers which splashed right up to the feet of the palms. Mouthfuls of turf were torn away: and on the far side of the bay a small piece of cliff tumbled into the water: sand and twigs showered down, dew fell from the trees like diamonds: birds and beasts, their tongues at last loosed, screamed and bellowed: the ponies, though quite unalarmed, lifted up their heads and yelled.
That was all: a few moments. Then silence, with a rapid countermarch, recovered all his rebellious kingdom. Stillness again. The trees moved as little as the pillars of a ruin, each leaf laid sleekly in place. The bubbling foam subsided: the reﬂections of the stars came out among it as if from clouds. Silent, still, dark, placid, as if there could never have been a disturbance. The naked children too continued to stand motionless beside the quiet ponies, dew on their hair and eyelashes, shine on their infantile round paunches.
But as for Emily, it was too much. The earthquake went completely to her head. She began to dance, hopping laboriously from one foot on to another. John caught the infection. He turned head over heels on the damp sand, over and over in an elliptical course, till before he knew it he was in the water, and so giddy as hardly to be able to tell up from down.
At that, Emily knew what it was she wanted to do. She scrambled on to a pony and galloped him up and down the beach, trying to bark like a dog. The Fernandez children stared, solemn but not disapproving. John, shaping a course for Cuba, was swimming as if sharks were paring his toe-nails. Emily rode her pony into the sea, and beat and beat him till he swam: and so she followed John towards the reef, yapping herself hoarse.
It must have been fully a hundred yards before they were spent. Then they turned for the shore, John holding on to Emily’s leg, puffing and gasping, both a little overdone, their emotion run down. Presently John gasped:
“You shouldn’t ride on your bare skin, you’ll catch ringworm.”
“I don’t care if I do,” said Emily.
“You would if you did,” said John.
“I don’t care!” chanted Emily.
It seemed a long way to the shore. When they reached it the others had dressed and were preparing to start. Soon the whole party were on their way home in the dark. Presently Margaret said:
“So that’s that.”
No one answered.
“I could smell it was an earthquake coming when I got up. Didn’t I say so, Emily?”
“You and your smells!” said Jimmie Fernandez. “You’re always smelling things!”
“She’s awfully good at smells,” said the youngest, Harry, proudly, to John. “She can sort out people’s dirty clothes for the wash by smell: who they belong to.”
“She can’t really,” said Jimmie: “she fakes it. As if every one smelt different!”
“Dogs can, anyway,” said John.
Emily said nothing. Of course people smelt different: it didn’t need arguing. She could always tell her own towel from John’s, for instance: or even knew if one of the others had used it. But it just showed what sort of people Creoles were, to talk about Smell, in that open way.
“Well, anyhow I said there was going to be an earthquake and there was one,” said Margaret. That was what Emily was waiting for! So it really had been an Earthquake (she had not liked to ask, it seemed so ignorant, but now Margaret had said in so many words that it was one).
If ever she went back to England, she could now say to people, “I have been in an Earthquake.”
From A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes