The Coral Island A Tale of the Pacific Ocean
Part 3 out of 6
had found at the house of the poor man at the other side of the
island. This, when made red hot, bored slowly though the timbers;
and, the better to retain the heat, Jack shut up one end of it and
filled it with sand. True, the work was very slowly done, but it
mattered not - we had little else to do. Two holes were bored in
each timber, about an inch and a half apart, and also down into the
keel, but not quite through. Into these were placed stout pegs
made of a tree called iron-wood; and, when they were hammered well
home, the timbers were as firmly fixed as if they had been nailed
with iron. The gunwales, which were very stout, were fixed in a
similar manner. But, besides the wooden nails, they were firmly
lashed to the stem and stern posts and ribs by means of a species
of cordage which we had contrived to make out of the fibrous husk
of the cocoa nut. This husk was very tough, and when a number of
the threads were joined together they formed excellent cordage. At
first we tied the different lengths together, but this was such a
clumsy and awkward complication of knots, that we contrived, by
careful interlacing of the ends together before twisting, to make
good cordage of any size or length we chose. Of course it cost us
much time and infinite labour, but Jack kept up our spirits when we
grew weary, and so all that we required was at last constructed.
Planks were now cut off the chestnut trees of about an inch thick.
These were dressed with the axe, - but clumsily, for an axe is ill
adapted for such work. Five of these planks on each side were
sufficient, and we formed the boat in a very rounded, barrel-like
shape, in order to have as little twisting of the planks as
possible; for, although we could easily bend them, we could not
easily twist them. Having no nails to rivet the planks with, we
threw aside the ordinary fashion of boat building and adopted one
of our own. The planks were therefore placed on each other's
edges, and sewed together with the tough cordage already mentioned.
They were also thus sewed to the stem, the stern, and the keel.
Each stitch or tie was six inches apart, and was formed thus:
Three holes were bored in the upper plank and three in the lower, -
the holes being above each other, that is, in a vertical line.
Through these holes the cord was passed, and, when tied, formed a
powerful stitch of three ply. Besides this, we placed between the
edges of the planks, layers of cocoa-nut fibre, which, as it
swelled when wetted, would, we hoped, make our little vessel water-
tight. But in order further to secure this end, we collected a
large quantity of pitch from the bread-fruit tree, with which, when
boiled in our old iron pot, we payed the whole of the inside of the
boat, and, while it was yet hot, placed large pieces of cocoa-nut
cloth on it, and then gave it another coat above that. Thus the
interior was covered with a tough water-tight material; while the
exterior, being uncovered, and so exposed to the swelling action of
the water, was we hoped, likely to keep the boat quite dry. I may
add that our hopes were not disappointed.
While Jack was thus engaged, Peterkin and I sometimes assisted him,
but, as our assistance was not much required, we more frequently
went a-hunting on the extensive mud-flats at the entrance of the
long valley which lay nearest to our bower. Here we found large
flocks of ducks of various kinds, some of them bearing so much
resemblance to the wild ducks of our own country that I think they
must have been the same. On these occasions we took the bow and
the sling, with both of which we were often successful, though I
must confess I was the least so. Our suppers were thus pleasantly
varied, and sometimes we had such a profusion spread out before us
that we frequently knew not with which of the dainties to begin.
I must also add, that the poor old cat which we had brought home
had always a liberal share of our good things, and so well was it
looked after, especially by Peterkin, that it recovered much of its
former strength, and seemed to improve in sight as well as hearing.
The large flat stone, or rock of coral, which stood just in front
of the entrance to our bower, was our table. On this rock we had
spread out the few articles we possessed the day we were
shipwrecked; and on the same rock, during many a day afterwards, we
spread out the bountiful supply with which we had been blessed on
our Coral Island. Sometimes we sat down at this table to a feast
consisting of hot rolls, - as Peterkin called the newly baked bread
fruit, - a roast pig, roast duck, boiled and roasted yams, cocoa
nuts, taro, and sweet potatoes; which we followed up with a dessert
of plums, apples, and plantains, - the last being a large-sized and
delightful fruit, which grew on a large shrub or tree not more than
twelve feet high, with light-green leaves of enormous length and
breadth. These luxurious feasts were usually washed down with
Occasionally Peterkin tried to devise some new dish, - "a
conglomerate," as he used to say; but these generally turned out
such atrocious compounds that he was ultimately induced to give up
his attempts in extreme disgust. Not forgetting, however, to point
out to Jack that his failure was a direct contradiction to the
proverb which he, Jack, was constantly thrusting down his throat,
namely, that "where there's a will there's a way." For he had a
great will to become a cook, but could by no means find a way to
accomplish that end.
One day, while Peterkin and I were seated beside our table on which
dinner was spread, Jack came up from the beach, and, flinging down
his axe, exclaimed, -
"There, lads, the boat's finished at last! so we've nothing to do
now but shape two pair of oars, and then we may put to sea as soon
as we like."
This piece of news threw us into a state of great joy; for although
we were aware that the boat had been gradually getting near its
completion, it had taken so long that we did not expect it to be
quite ready for at least two or three weeks. But Jack had wrought
hard and said nothing, in order to surprise us.
"My dear fellow," cried Peterkin, "you're a perfect trump. But why
did you not tell us it was so nearly ready? won't we have a jolly
sail to-morrow? eh?"
"Don't talk so much, Peterkin," said Jack; "and, pray, hand me a
bit of that pig."
"Certainly, my dear," cried Peterkin, seizing the axe; "what part
will you have? a leg, or a wing, or a piece of the breast; which?"
"A hind leg, if you please," answered Jack; "and, pray, be so good
as to include the tail."
"With all my heart," said Peterkin, exchanging the axe for his
hoop-iron knife, with which he cut off the desired portion. "I'm
only too glad, my dear boy, to see that your appetite is so
wholesale; and there's no chance whatever of its dwindling down
into re-tail again, at least in so far as this pig is concerned.
Ralph, lad, why don't you laugh? - eh?" he added turning suddenly
to me with a severe look of inquiry.
"Laugh?" said I; "what at, Peterkin? why should I laugh?"
Both Jack and Peterkin answered this inquiry by themselves laughing
so immoderately that I was induced to believe I had missed noticing
some good joke, so I begged that it might be explained to me; but
as this only produced repeated roars of laughter, I smiled and
helped myself to another slice of plantain.
"Well, but," continued Peterkin, "I was talking of a sail to-
morrow. Can't we have one, Jack?"
"No," replied Jack, "we can't have a sail, but I hope we shall have
a row, as I intend to work hard at the oars this afternoon, and, if
we can't get them finished by sunset we'll light our candle-nuts,
and turn them out of hands before we turn into bed."
"Very good," said Peterkin, tossing a lump of pork to the cat, who
received it with a mew of satisfaction. "I'll help you, if I can."
"Afterwards," continued Jack, "we will make a sail out of the
cocoa-nut cloth, and rig up a mast, and then we shall be able to
sail to some of the other islands, and visit our old friends the
The prospect of being so soon in a position to extend our
observations to the other islands, and enjoy a sail over the
beautiful sea, afforded us much delight, and, after dinner, we set
about making the oars in good earnest. Jack went into the woods
and blocked them roughly out with the axe, and I smoothed them down
with the knife, while Peterkin remained in the bower, spinning, or,
rather, twisting some strong thick cordage with which to fasten
them to the boat.
We worked hard and rapidly, so that, when the sun went down, Jack
and I returned to the bower with four stout oars, which required
little to be done to them save a slight degree of polishing with
the knife. As we drew near we were suddenly arrested by the sound
of a voice! We were not a little surprised at this - indeed I may
almost say alarmed - for, although Peterkin was undoubtedly fond of
talking, we had never, up to this time, found him talking to
himself. We listened intently, and still heard the sound of a
voice as if in conversation. Jack motioned me to be silent, and,
advancing to the bower on tip-toe, we peeped in.
The sight that met our gaze was certainly not a little amusing. On
the top of a log which we sometimes used as a table, sat the black
cat, with a very demure expression on its countenance; and in front
of it, sitting on the ground, with his legs extended on either side
of the log, was Peterkin. At the moment we saw him he was gazing
intently into the cat's face, with his nose about four inches from
it, - his hands being thrust into his breeches pockets.
"Cat," said Peterkin, turning his head a little on one side, "I
There was a pause, as if Peterkin awaited a reply to this
affectionate declaration but the cat said nothing.
"Do you hear me?" cried Peterkin, sharply. "I love you - I do.
Don't you love me?"
To this touching appeal the cat said "Mew," faintly.
"Ah! that's right. You're a jolly old rascal. Why did you not
speak at once? eh?" and Peterkin put forward his mouth and kissed
the cat on the nose!
"Yes," continued Peterkin, after a pause, "I love you. D'you think
I'd say so if I didn't, you black villain? I love you because I've
got to take care of you, and to look after you, and to think about
you, and to see that you don't die - "
"Mew, me-a-w!" said the cat.
"Very good," continued Peterkin, "quite true, I have no doubt; but
you've no right to interrupt me, sir. Hold your tongue till I have
done speaking. Moreover, cat, I love you because you came to me
the first time you ever saw me, and didn't seem to be afraid, and
appeared to be fond of me, though you didn't know that I wasn't
going to kill you. Now, that was brave, that was bold, and very
jolly, old boy, and I love you for it - I do!"
Again there was a pause of a few minutes, during which the cat
looked placid, and Peterkin dropped his eyes upon its toes as if in
contemplation. Suddenly he looked up.
"Well, cat, what are you thinking about now? won't speak? eh? Now,
tell me; don't you think it's a monstrous shame that these two
scoundrels, Jack and Ralph, should keep us waiting for our supper
Here the cat arose, put up its back and stretched itself; yawned
slightly, and licked the point of Peterkin's nose!
"Just so, old boy, you're a clever fellow, - I really do believe
the brute understands me!" said Peterkin, while a broad grin
overspread his face, as he drew back and surveyed the cat.
At this point Jack burst into a loud fit of laughter. The cat
uttered an angry fuff and fled, while Peterkin sprang up and
"Bad luck to you, Jack! you've nearly made the heart jump out of my
body, you have."
"Perhaps I have," replied Jack, laughing, as we entered the bower,
"but, as I don't intend to keep you or the cat any longer from your
supper, I hope that you'll both forgive me."
Peterkin endeavoured to turn this affair off with a laugh, but I
observed that he blushed very deeply at the time we discovered
ourselves, and he did not seem to relish any allusion to the
subject afterwards; so we refrained from remarking on it ever
after, - though it tickled us not a little at the time.
After supper we retired to rest and to dream of wonderful
adventures in our little boat, and distant voyages upon the sea.
The boat launched - We visit the coral reef - The great breaker
that never goes down - Coral insects - The way in which coral
islands are made - The boat's sail - We tax our ingenuity to form
fish-hooks - Some of the fish we saw - And a monstrous whale -
Wonderful shower of little fish - Water-spouts.
IT was a bright, clear, beautiful morning, when we first launched
our little boat and rowed out upon the placid waters of the lagoon.
Not a breath of wind ruffled the surface of the deep. Not a cloud
spotted the deep blue sky. Not a sound that was discordant broke
the stillness of the morning, although there were many sounds,
sweet, tiny, and melodious, that mingled in the universal harmony
of nature. The sun was just rising from the Pacific's ample bosom
and tipping the mountain tops with a red glow. The sea was shining
like a sheet of glass, yet heaving with the long deep swell that,
all the world round, indicates the life of ocean; and the bright
sea-weeds and the brilliant corals shone in the depths of that
pellucid water, as we rowed over it, like rare and precious gems.
Oh! it was a sight fitted to stir the soul of man to its
profoundest depths, and, if he owned a heart at all, to lift that
heart in adoration and gratitude to the great Creator of this
magnificent and glorious universe.
At first, in the strength of our delight, we rowed hither and
thither without aim or object. But after the effervescence of our
spirits was abated, we began to look about us and to consider what
we should do.
"I vote that we row to the reef," cried Peterkin.
"And I vote that we visit the islands within the lagoon," said I.
"And I vote we do both," cried Jack, "so pull away, boys."
As I have already said, we had made four oars, but our boat was so
small that only two were necessary. The extra pair were reserved
in case any accident should happen to the others. It was therefore
only needful that two of us should row, while the third steered, by
means of an oar, and relieved the rowers occasionally.
First we landed on one of the small islands and ran all over it,
but saw nothing worthy of particular notice. Then we landed on a
larger island, on which were growing a few cocoa-nut trees. Not
having eaten anything that morning, we gathered a few of the nuts
and breakfasted. After this we pulled straight out to sea and
landed on the coral reef.
This was indeed a novel and interesting sight to us. We had now
been so long on shore that we had almost forgotten the appearance
of breakers, for there were none within the lagoon; but now, as we
stood beside the foam-crested billow of the open sea, all the
enthusiasm of the sailor was awakened in our breasts; and, as we
gazed on the wide-spread ruin of that single magnificent breaker
that burst in thunder at our feet, we forgot the Coral Island
behind us; we forgot our bower and the calm repose of the scented
woods; we forgot all that had passed during the last few months,
and remembered nothing but the storms, the calms, the fresh breezes
and the surging billows of the open sea.
This huge, ceaseless breaker, to which I have so often alluded, was
a much larger and more sublime object than we had at all imagined
it to be. It rose many yards above the level of the sea, and could
be seen approaching at some distance from the reef. Slowly and
majestically it came on, acquiring greater volume and velocity as
it advanced, until it assumed the form of a clear watery arch,
which sparkled in the bright sun. On it came with resistless and
solemn majesty, - the upper edge lipped gently over, and it fell
with a roar that seemed as though the heart of Ocean were broken in
the crash of tumultuous water, while the foam-clad coral reef
appeared to tremble beneath the mighty shock!
We gazed long and wonderingly at this great sight, and it was with
difficulty we could tear ourselves away from it. As I have once
before mentioned, this wave broke in many places over the reef and
scattered some of its spray into the lagoon, but in most places the
reef was sufficiently broad and elevated to receive and check its
entire force. In many places the coral rocks were covered with
vegetation, - the beginning, as it appeared to us, of future
islands. Thus, on this reef, we came to perceive how most of the
small islands of those seas are formed. On one part we saw the
spray of the breaker washing over the rocks, and millions of
little, active, busy creatures continuing the work of building up
this living rampart. At another place, which was just a little too
high for the waves to wash over it, the coral insects were all
dead; for we found that they never did their work above water.
They had faithfully completed the mighty work which their Creator
had given them to do, and they were now all dead. Again, in other
spots the ceaseless lashing of the sea had broken the dead coral in
pieces, and cast it up in the form of sand. Here sea-birds had
alighted, little pieces of sea-weed and stray bits of wood had been
washed up, seeds of plants had been carried by the wind and a few
lovely blades of bright green had already sprung up, which, when
they died, would increase the size and fertility of these emeralds
of Ocean. At other places these islets had grown apace, and were
shaded by one or two cocoa-nut trees, which grew, literally, in the
sand, and were constantly washed by the ocean spray; yet, as I have
before remarked, their fruit was most refreshing and sweet to our
Again at this time Jack and I pondered the formation of the large
coral islands. We could now understand how the low ones were
formed, but the larger islands cost us much consideration, yet we
could arrive at no certain conclusion on the subject.
Having satisfied our curiosity and enjoyed ourselves during the
whole day, in our little boat, we returned, somewhat wearied, and,
withal, rather hungry, to our bower.
"Now," said Jack, "as our boat answers so well, we will get a mast
and sail made immediately."
"So we will," cried Peterkin, as we all assisted to drag the boat
above high-water mark; "we'll light our candle and set about it
this very night. Hurrah, my boys, pull away!"
As we dragged our boat, we observed that she grated heavily on her
keel; and, as the sands were in this place mingled with broken
coral rocks, we saw portions of the wood being scraped off.
"Hallo!" cried Jack, on seeing this. "That won't do. Our keel
will be worn off in no time at this rate."
"So it will," said I, pondering deeply as to how this might be
prevented. But I am not of a mechanical turn, naturally, so I
could conceive no remedy save that of putting a plate of iron on
the keel, but as we had no iron I knew not what was to be done.
"It seems to me, Jack," I added, "that it is impossible to prevent
the keel being worn off thus."
"Impossible!" cried Peterkin, "my dear Ralph, you are mistaken,
there is nothing so easy - "
"How?" I inquired, in some surprise.
"Why, by not using the boat at all!" replied Peterkin.
"Hold your impudent tongue, Peterkin," said Jack, as he shouldered
the oars, "come along with me and I'll give you work to do. In the
first place, you will go and collect cocoa-nut fibre, and set to
work to make sewing twine with it - "
"Please, captain," interrupted Peterkin, "I've got lots of it made
already, - more than enough, as a little friend of mine used to be
in the habit of saying every day after dinner."
"Very well," continued Jack; "then you'll help Ralph to collect
cocoa-nut cloth, and cut it into shape, after which we'll make a
sail of it. I'll see to getting the mast and the gearing; so let's
And to work we went right busily, so that in three days from that
time we had set up a mast and sail, with the necessary rigging, in
our little boat. The sail was not, indeed, very handsome to look
at, as it was formed of a number of oblong patches of cloth; but we
had sewed it well by means of our sail-needle, so that it was
strong, which was the chief point. Jack had also overcome the
difficulty about the keel, by pinning to it a FALSE keel. This was
a piece of tough wood, of the same length and width as the real
keel, and about five inches deep. He made it of this depth because
the boat would be thereby rendered not only much more safe, but
more able to beat against the wind; which, in a sea where the
trade-winds blow so long and so steadily in one direction, was a
matter of great importance. This piece of wood was pegged very
firmly to the keel; and we now launched our boat with the
satisfaction of knowing that when the false keel should be scraped
off we could easily put on another; whereas, should the real keel
have been scraped away, we could not have renewed it without taking
our boat to pieces, which Peterkin said made his "marrow quake to
The mast and sail answered excellently; and we now sailed about in
the lagoon with great delight, and examined with much interest the
appearance of our island from a distance. Also, we gazed into the
depths of the water, and watched for hours the gambols of the
curious and bright-coloured fish among the corals and sea-weed.
Peterkin also made a fishing line, and Jack constructed a number of
hooks, some of which were very good, others remarkably bad. Some
of these hooks were made of iron-wood, which did pretty well, the
wood being extremely hard, and Jack made them very thick and large.
Fish there are not particular. Some of the crooked bones in fish-
heads also answered for this purpose pretty well. But that which
formed our best and most serviceable hook was the brass finger-ring
belonging to Jack. It gave him not a little trouble to manufacture
it. First he cut it with the axe; then twisted it into the form of
a hook. The barb took him several hours to cut. He did it by
means of constant sawing with the broken pen-knife. As for the
point, an hour's rubbing on a piece of sandstone made an excellent
It would be a matter of much time and labour to describe the
appearance of the multitudes of fish that were day after day drawn
into our boat by means of the brass hook. Peterkin always caught
them, - for we observed that he derived much pleasure from fishing,
- while Jack and I found ample amusement in looking on, also in
gazing down at the coral groves, and in baiting the hook. Among
the fish that we saw, but did not catch, were porpoises and sword-
fish, whales and sharks. The porpoises came frequently into our
lagoon in shoals, and amused us not a little by their bold leaps
into the air, and their playful gambols in the sea. The sword-fish
were wonderful creatures; some of them apparently ten feet in
length, with an ivory spear, six or eight feet long, projecting
from their noses. We often saw them darting after other fish, and
no doubt they sometimes killed them with their ivory swords. Jack
remembered having heard once of a sword-fish attacking a ship, -
which seemed strange indeed; but, as they are often in the habit of
attacking whales, perhaps it mistook the ship for one. This sword-
fish ran against the vessel with such force, that it drove its
sword quite through the thick planks; and when the ship arrived in
harbour, long afterwards, the sword was found still sticking in it!
Sharks did not often appear; but we took care never again to bathe
in deep water without leaving one of our number in the boat to give
us warning, if he should see a shark approaching. As for the
whales, they never came into our lagoon, but we frequently saw them
spouting in the deep water beyond the reef. I shall never forget
my surprise the first day I saw one of these huge monsters close to
me. We had been rambling about on the reef during the morning, and
were about to re-embark in our little boat, to return home, when a
loud blowing sound caused us to wheel rapidly round. We were just
in time to see a shower of spray falling, and the flukes or tail of
some monstrous fish disappear in the sea a few hundred yards off.
We waited some time to see if he would rise again. As we stood,
the sea seemed to open up at our very feet; an immense spout of
water was sent with a snort high into the air, and the huge blunt
head of a sperm whale arose before us. It was so large that it
could easily have taken our little boat, along with ourselves, into
its mouth! It plunged slowly back into the sea, like a large ship
foundering, and struck the water with its tail so forcibly as to
cause a sound like a cannon shot. We also saw a great number of
flying fish, although we caught none; and we noticed that they
never flew out of the water except when followed by their bitter
foe, the dolphin, from whom they thus endeavoured to escape. But
of all the fish that we saw, none surprised us so much as those
that we used to find in shallow pools after a shower of rain; and
this not on account of their appearance, for they were ordinary-
looking and very small, but on account of their having descended in
a shower of rain! We could account for them in no other way,
because the pools in which we found these fish were quite dry
before the shower, and at some distance above high-water mark.
Jack, however, suggested a cause which seemed to me very probable.
We used often to see water-spouts in the sea. A water-spout is a
whirling body of water, which rises from the sea like a sharp-
pointed pillar. After rising a good way, it is met by a long
tongue, which comes down from the clouds; and when the two have
joined, they look something like an hour-glass. The water-spout is
then carried by the wind, sometimes gently, sometimes with
violence, over the sea, sometimes up into the clouds, and then,
bursting asunder, it descends in a deluge. This often happens over
the land as well as over the sea; and it sometimes does much
damage, but frequently it passes gently away. Now, Jack thought
that the little fish might perhaps have been carried up in a water-
spout, and so sent down again in a shower of rain. But we could
not be certain as to this point; yet we thought it likely.
During these delightful fishing and boating excursions we caught a
good many eels, which we found to be very good to eat. We also
found turtles among the coral rocks, and made excellent soup in our
iron kettle. Moreover, we discovered many shrimps and prawns, so
that we had no lack of variety in our food; and, indeed, we never
passed a week without making some new and interesting discovery of
some sort or other, either on the land or in the sea.
A monster wave and its consequences - The boat lost and found -
Peterkin's terrible accident - Supplies of food for a voyage in the
boat - We visit Penguin Island, and are amazed beyond measure -
Account of the penguins.
ONE day, not long after our little boat was finished, we were
sitting on the rocks at Spouting Cliff, and talking of an excursion
which we intended to make to Penguin Island the next day.
"You see," said Peterkin, "it might be all very well for a stupid
fellow like me to remain here and leave the penguins alone, but it
would be quite inconsistent with your characters as philosophers to
remain any longer in ignorance of the habits and customs of these
birds; so the sooner we go the better."
"Very true," said I; "there is nothing I desire so much as to have
a closer inspection of them."
"And I think," said Jack, "that you had better remain at home,
Peterkin, to take care of the cat; for I'm sure the hogs will be at
it in your absence, out of revenge for your killing their great-
grandmother so recklessly."
"Stay at home?" cried Peterkin; "my dear fellow, you would
certainly lose your way, or get upset, if I were not there to take
care of you."
"Ah, true," said Jack, gravely, "that did not occur to me; no doubt
you must go. Our boat does require a good deal of ballast; and all
that you say, Peterkin, carries so much weight with it, that we
won't need stones if you go."
Now, while my companions were talking, a notable event occurred,
which, as it is not generally known, I shall be particular in
While we were talking, as I have said, we noticed a dark line, like
a low cloud or fog-bank, on the seaward horizon. The day was a
fine one, though cloudy, and a gentle breeze was blowing, but the
sea was not rougher, or the breaker on the reef higher, than usual.
At first we thought that this looked like a thunder-cloud; and, as
we had had a good deal of broken weather of late, accompanied by
occasional peals of thunder, we supposed that a storm must be
approaching. Gradually, however, this line seemed to draw nearer,
without spreading up over the sky, as would certainly have been the
case if it had been a storm-cloud. Still nearer it came, and soon
we saw that it was moving swiftly towards the island; but there was
no sound till it reached the islands out at sea. As it passed
these islands, we observed, with no little anxiety, that a cloud of
white foam encircled them, and burst in spray into the air: it was
accompanied by a loud roar. This led us to conjecture that the
approaching object was an enormous wave of the sea; but we had no
idea how large it was till it came near to ourselves. When it
approached the outer reef, however, we were awe-struck with its
unusual magnitude; and we sprang to our feet, and clambered hastily
up to the highest point of the precipice, under an indefinable
feeling of fear.
I have said before that the reef opposite Spouting Cliff was very
near to the shore, while, just in front of the bower, it was at a
considerable distance out to sea. Owing to this formation, the
wave reached the reef at the latter point before it struck at the
foot of Spouting Cliff. The instant it touched the reef we became
aware, for the first time, of its awful magnitude. It burst
completely over the reef at all points, with a roar that seemed
louder to me than thunder; and this roar continued for some
seconds, while the wave rolled gradually along towards the cliff on
which we stood. As its crest reared before us, we felt that we
were in great danger, and turned to flee; but we were too late.
With a crash that seemed to shake the solid rocks the gigantic
billow fell, and instantly the spouting-holes sent up a gush of
water-spouts with such force that they shrieked on issuing from
their narrow vents. It seemed to us as if the earth had been blown
up with water. We were stunned and confused by the shock, and so
drenched and blinded with spray, that we knew not for a few moments
whither to flee for shelter. At length we all three gained an
eminence beyond the reach of the water; but what a scene of
devastation met our gaze as we looked along the shore! This
enormous wave not only burst over the reef, but continued its way
across the lagoon, and fell on the sandy beach of the island with
such force that passed completely over it and dashed into the
woods, levelling the smaller trees and bushes in its headlong
On seeing this, Jack said he feared our bower must have been swept
away, and that the boat, which was on the beach, must have been
utterly destroyed. Our hearts sank within us as we thought of
this, and we hastened round through the woods towards our home. On
reaching it we found, to our great relief of mind, that the force
of the wave had been expended just before reaching the bower; but
the entrance to it was almost blocked up by the torn-up bushes and
tangled heaps of sea-weed. Having satisfied ourselves as to the
bower, we hurried to the spot where the boat had been left; but no
boat was there! The spot on which it had stood was vacant, and no
sign of it could we see on looking around us.
"It may have been washed up into the woods," said Jack, hurrying up
the beach as he spoke. Still, no boat was to be seen, and we were
about to give ourselves over to despair, when Peterkin called to
Jack and said, -
"Jack, my friend, you were once so exceedingly sagacious and wise
as to make me acquainted with the fact that cocoa nuts grow upon
trees; will you now be so good as to inform me what sort of fruit
that is growing on the top of yonder bush? for I confess to being
ignorant, or, at least, doubtful on the point."
We looked towards the bush indicated, and there, to our surprise,
beheld our little boat snugly nestled among the leaves! We were
very much overjoyed at this, for we would have suffered any loss
rather than the loss of our boat. We found that the wave had
actually borne the boat on its crest from the beach into the woods,
and there launched it into the heart of this bush; which was
extremely fortunate, for had it been tossed against a rock or a
tree, it would have been dashed to pieces, whereas it had not
received the smallest injury. It was no easy matter, however, to
get it out of the bush and down to the sea again. This cost us two
days of hard labour to accomplish.
We had also much ado to clear away the rubbish from before the
bower, and spent nearly a week in constant labour ere we got the
neighbourhood to look as clean and orderly as before; for the
uprooted bushes and sea-weed that lay on the beach formed a more
dreadfully confused-looking mass than one who had not seen the
place after the inundation could conceive.
Before leaving the subject I may mention, for the sake of those who
interest themselves in the curious natural phenomena of our world,
that this gigantic wave occurs regularly on some of the islands of
the Pacific, once, and sometimes twice in the year. I heard this
stated by the missionaries during my career in those seas. They
could not tell me whether it visited all of the islands, but I was
certainly assured that it occurred periodically in some of them.
After we had got our home put to rights and cleared of the DEBRIS
of the inundation, we again turned our thoughts to paying the
penguins a visit. The boat was therefore overhauled and a few
repairs done. Then we prepared a supply of provisions, for we
intended to be absent at least a night or two, perhaps longer.
This took us some time to do, for while Jack was busy with the
boat, Peterkin was sent into the woods to spear a hog or two, and
had to search long, sometimes, ere he found them. Peterkin was
usually sent on this errand, when we wanted a pork chop (which was
not seldom), because he was so active, and could run so wonderfully
fast that he found no difficulty in overtaking the hogs; but, being
dreadfully reckless, he almost invariably tumbled over stumps and
stones in the course of his wild chase, and seldom returned home
without having knocked the skin off his shins. Once, indeed, a
more serious accident happened to him. He had been out all morning
alone and did not return at the usual time to dinner. We wondered
at this, for Peterkin was always very punctual at the dinner hour.
As supper-time drew near we began to be anxious about him, and at
length sallied forth to search the woods. For a long time we
sought in vain, but a little before dark we came upon the tracks of
the hogs, which we followed up until we came to the brow of a
rather steep bank or precipice. Looking over this we beheld
Peterkin lying in a state of insensibility at the foot, with his
cheek resting on the snout of a little pig, which was pinned to the
earth by the spear! We were dreadfully alarmed, but hastened to
bathe his forehead with water, and had soon the satisfaction of
seeing him revive. After we had carried him home he related to as
how the thing had happened.
"You must know," said he, "I walked about all the forenoon, till I
was as tired as an old donkey, without seeing a single grunter, not
so much as a track of one; but, as I was determined not to return
empty-handed, I resolved to go without my dinner and - "
"What!" exclaimed Jack, "did you REALLY resolve to do that?"
"Now, Jack, hold your tongue," returned Peterkin; "I say that I
resolved to forego my dinner and to push to the head of the small
valley, where I felt pretty sure of discovering the hogs. I soon
found that I was on the right scent, for I had scarcely walked half
a mile in the direction of the small plum tree we found there the
other day, when a squeak fell on my ear. 'Ho, ho,' said I, 'there
you go, my boys;' and I hurried up the glen. I soon started them,
and singling out a fat pig, ran tilt at him. In a few seconds I
was up with him, and stuck my spear right through his dumpy body.
Just as I did so, I saw that we were on the edge of a precipice,
whether high or low I knew not, but I had been running at such a
pace that I could not stop, so the pig and I gave a howl in concert
and went plunging over together. I remembered nothing more after
that, till I came to my senses and found you bathing my temples,
and Ralph wringing his hands over me."
But although Peterkin was often unfortunate, in the way of getting
tumbles, he was successful on the present occasion in hunting, and
returned before evening with three very nice little hogs. I, also,
was successful in my visit to the mud-flats, where I killed several
ducks. So that, when we launched and loaded our boat at sunrise
the following morning, we found our store of provisions to be more
than sufficient. Part had been cooked the night before, and, on
taking note of the different items, we found the account to stand
10 Bread-fruits, (two baked, eight unbaked.)
20 Yams, (six roasted, the rest raw.)
6 Taro roots.
50 Fine large plums.
6 Cocoa nuts, ripe.
6 Ditto green, (for drinking.)
4 Large ducks and two small ones, raw.
3 Cold roast pigs, with stuffing.
I may here remark that the stuffing had been devised by Peterkin
specially for the occasion. He kept the manner of its compounding
a profound secret, so I cannot tell what it was; but I can say,
with much confidence, that we found it to be atrociously bad, and,
after the first tasting, scraped it carefully out and threw it
overboard. We calculated that this supply would last us for
several days, but we afterwards found that it was much more than we
required, especially in regard to the cocoa nuts, of which we found
large supplies wherever we went. However, as Peterkin remarked, it
was better to have too much than too little, as we knew not to what
straits we might be put during our voyage.
It was a very calm sunny morning when we launched forth and rowed
over the lagoon towards the outlet in the reef, and passed between
the two green islets that guard the entrance. We experienced some
difficulty and no little danger in passing the surf of the breaker,
and shipped a good deal of water in the attempt; but, once past the
billow, we found ourselves floating placidly on the long oily swell
that rose and fell slowly as it rolled over the wide ocean.
Penguin Island lay on the other side of our own island, at about a
mile beyond the outer reef, and we calculated that it must be at
least twenty miles distant by the way we should have to go. We
might, indeed, have shortened the way by coasting round our island
inside of the lagoon, and going out at the passage in the reef
nearly opposite to Penguin Island, but we preferred to go by the
open sea; first, because it was more adventurous; and, secondly,
because we should have the pleasure of again feeling the motion of
the deep, which we all loved very much, not being liable to sea
"I wish we had a breeze," said Jack.
"So do I," cried Peterkin, resting on his oar and wiping his heated
brow; "pulling is hard work. Oh dear, if we could only catch a
hundred or two of these gulls, tie them to the boat with long
strings, and make them fly as we want them, how capital it would
"Or bore a hole through a shark's tail, and reeve a rope through
it, eh?" remarked Jack. "But, I say, it seems that my wish is
going to be granted, for here comes a breeze. Ship your oar,
Peterkin. Up with the mast, Ralph; I'll see to the sail. Mind
your helm; look out for squalls!"
This last speech was caused by the sudden appearance of a dark blue
line on the horizon, which, in an incredibly short space of time,
swept down on us, lashing up the sea in white foam as it went. We
presented the stern of the boat to its first violence, and, in a
few seconds, it moderated into a steady breeze, to which we spread
our sail and flew merrily over the waves. Although the breeze died
away soon afterwards, it had been so stiff while it lasted, that we
were carried over the greater part of our way before it fell calm
again; so that, when the flapping of the sail against the mast told
us that it was time to resume the oars, we were not much more than
a mile from Penguin Island.
"There go the soldiers!" cried Peterkin as we came in sight of it;
"how spruce their white trousers look, this morning! I wonder if
they will receive us kindly. D'you think they are hospitable,
"Don't talk, Peterkin, but pull away, and you shall see shortly."
As we drew near to the island we were much amused by the manoeuvres
and appearance of these strange birds. They seemed to be of
different species, for some had crests on their heads while others
had none, and while some were about the size of a goose others
appeared nearly as large as a swan. We also saw a huge albatross
soaring above the heads of the penguins. It was followed and
surrounded by numerous flocks of sea-gulls. Having approached to
within a few yards of the island, which was a low rock, with no
other vegetation on it than a few bushes, we lay on our oars and
gazed at the birds with surprise and pleasure, they returning our
gaze with interest. We now saw that their soldier-like appearance
was owing to the stiff, erect manner in which they sat on their
short legs, - "Bolt-up-right," as Peterkin expressed it. They had
black heads, long sharp beaks, white breasts, and bluish backs.
Their wings were so short that they looked more like the fins of a
fish, and, indeed, we soon saw that they used them for the purpose
of swimming under water. There were no quills on these wings, but
a sort of scaly feathers; which also thickly covered their bodies.
Their legs were short, and placed so far back that the birds, while
on land, were obliged to stand quite upright in order to keep their
balance; but in the water they floated like other water-fowl. At
first we were so stunned with the clamour which they and other sea-
birds kept up around us, that we knew not which way to look, - for
they covered the rocks in thousands; but, as we continued to gaze,
we observed several quadrupeds (as we thought) walking in the midst
of the penguins.
"Pull in a bit," cried Peterkin, "and let's see what these are.
They must be fond of noisy company, to consort with such
To our surprise we found that these were no other than penguins
which had gone down on all fours, and were crawling among the
bushes on their feet and wings, just like quadrupeds. Suddenly one
big old bird, that had been sitting on a point very near to us,
gazing in mute astonishment, became alarmed, and, scuttling down
the rocks, plumped or fell, rather than ran, into the sea. It
dived in a moment, and, a few seconds afterwards, came out of the
water far a-head, with such a spring, and such a dive back into the
sea again, that we could scarcely believe it was not a fish that
had leaped in sport.
"That beats everything," said Peterkin, rubbing his nose, and
screwing up his face with an expression of exasperated amazement.
"I've heard of a thing being neither fish, flesh, nor fowl, but I
never did expect to live to see a brute that was all three
together, - at once - in one! But look there!" he continued,
pointing with a look of resignation to the shore, "look there!
there's no end to it. What HAS that brute got under its tail?"
We turned to look in the direction pointed out, and there saw a
penguin walking slowly and very sedately along the shore with an
egg under its tail. There were several others, we observed,
burdened in the same way; and we found afterwards that these were a
species of penguins that always carried their eggs so. Indeed,
they had a most convenient cavity for the purpose, just between the
tail and the legs. We were very much impressed with the regularity
and order of this colony. The island seemed to be apportioned out
into squares, of which each penguin possessed one, and sat in stiff
solemnity in the middle of it, or took a slow march up and down the
spaces between. Some were hatching their eggs, but others were
feeding their young ones in a manner that caused us to laugh not a
little. The mother stood on a mound or raised rock, while the
young one stood patiently below her on the ground. Suddenly the
mother raised her head and uttered a series of the most discordant
"She's going to choke," cried Peterkin.
But this was not the case, although, I confess, she looked like it.
In a few seconds she put down her head and opened her mouth, into
which the young one thrust its beak and seemed to suck something
from her throat. Then the cackling was renewed, the sucking
continued, and so the operation of feeding was carried on till the
young one was satisfied; but what she fed her little one with, we
could not tell.
"Now, just look yonder!" said Peterkin, in an excited tone; "if
that isn't the most abominable piece of maternal deception I ever
saw. That rascally old lady penguin has just pitched her young one
into the sea, and there's another about to follow her example."
This indeed seemed to be the cue, for, on the top of a steep rock
close to the edge of the sea, we observed an old penguin
endeavouring to entice her young one into the water; but the young
one seemed very unwilling to go, and, notwithstanding the
enticements of its mother, moved very slowly towards her. At last
she went gently behind the young bird and pushed it a little
towards the water, but with great tenderness, as much as to say,
'Don't be afraid, darling! I won't hurt you, my pet!' but no
sooner did she get it to the edge of the rock, where it stood
looking pensively down at the sea, than she gave it a sudden and
violent push, sending it headlong down the slope into the water,
where its mother left it to scramble ashore as it best could. We
observed many of them employed in doing this, and we came to the
conclusion that this is the way in which old penguins teach their
children to swim.
Scarcely had we finished making our remarks on this, when we were
startled by about a dozen of the old birds hopping in the most
clumsy and ludicrous manner towards the sea. The beach, here, was
a sloping rock, and when they came to it, some of them succeeded in
hopping down in safety, but others lost their balance and rolled
and scrambled down the slope in the most helpless manner. The
instant they reached the water, however, they seemed to be in their
proper element. They dived and bounded out of it and into it again
with the utmost agility; and so, diving and bounding and
spluttering, for they could not fly, they went rapidly out to sea,
On seeing this, Peterkin turned with a grave face to us and said,
"It's my opinion that these birds are all stark, staring mad, and
that this is an enchanted island. I therefore propose that we
should either put about ship and fly in terror from the spot, or
land valorously on the island, and sell our lives as dearly as we
"I vote for landing, so pull in, lads," said Jack, giving a stroke
with his oar that made the boat spin. In a few seconds we ran the
boat into a little creek where we made her fast to a projecting
piece of coral, and, running up the beach, entered the ranks of the
penguins armed with our cudgels and our spear. We were greatly
surprised to find that, instead of attacking us or showing signs of
fear at our approach, these curious birds did not move from their
places until we laid hands on them, and merely turned their eyes on
us in solemn, stupid wonder as we passed. There was one old
penguin, however, that began to walk slowly toward the sea, and
Peterkin took it into his head that he would try to interrupt its
progress, so he ran between it and the sea and brandished his
cudgel in its face. But this proved to be a resolute old bird. It
would not retreat; nay, more, it would not cease to advance, but
battled with Peterkin bravely and drove him before it until it
reached the sea. Had Peterkin used his club he could easily have
felled it, no doubt; but, as he had no wish to do so cruel an act
merely out of sport, he let the bird escape.
We spent fully three hours on this island in watching the habits of
these curious birds, and, when we finally left them, we all three
concluded, after much consultation, that they were the most
wonderful creatures we had ever seen; and further, we thought it
probable that they were the most wonderful creatures in the world!
An awful storm and its consequences - Narrow escape - A rock proves
a sure foundation - A fearful night and a bright morning -
Deliverance from danger.
IT was evening before we left the island of the penguins. As we
had made up our minds to encamp for the night on a small island,
whereon grew a few cocoa-nut trees, which was about two miles off,
we lay to our oars with some energy. But a danger was in store for
us which we had not anticipated. The wind, which had carried us so
quickly to Penguin Island, freshened as evening drew on, to a stiff
breeze, and, before we had made half the distance to the small
island, it became a regular gale. Although it was not so directly
against us as to prevent our rowing in the course we wished to go,
yet it checked us very much; and although the force of the sea was
somewhat broken by the island, the waves soon began to rise, and to
roll their broken crests against our small craft, so that she began
to take in water, and we had much ado to keep ourselves afloat. At
last the wind and sea together became so violent that we found it
impossible to make the island, so Jack suddenly put the head of the
boat round and ordered Peterkin and me to hoist a corner of the
sail, intending to run back to Penguin Island.
"We shall at least have the shelter of the bushes," he said, as the
boat flew before the wind, "and the penguins will keep us company."
As Jack spoke, the wind suddenly shifted, and blew so much against
us that we were forced to hoist more of the sail in order to beat
up for the island, being by this change thrown much to leeward of
it. What made matters worse was, that the gale came in squalls, so
that we were more than once nearly upset.
"Stand by, both of you," cried Jack, in a quick, earnest tone; "be
ready to dowse the sail. I very much fear we won't make the island
Peterkin and I were so much in the habit of trusting everything to
Jack that we had fallen into the way of not considering things,
especially such things as were under Jack's care. We had,
therefore, never doubted for a moment that all was going well, so
that it was with no little anxiety that we heard him make the above
remark. However, we had no time for question or surmise, for, at
the moment he spoke, a heavy squall was bearing down upon us, and,
as we were then flying with our lee gunwale dipping occasionally
under the waves, it was evident that we should have to lower our
sail altogether. In a few seconds the squall struck the boat, but
Peterkin and I had the sail down in a moment, so that it did not
upset us; but, when it was past, we were more than half full of
water. This I soon baled out, while Peterkin again hoisted a
corner of the sail; but the evil which Jack had feared came upon
us. We found it quite impossible to make Penguin Island. The gale
carried us quickly past it towards the open sea, and the terrible
truth flashed upon us that we should be swept out and left to
perish miserably in a small boat in the midst of the wide ocean.
This idea was forced very strongly upon us because we saw nothing
in the direction whither the wind was blowing us save the raging
billows of the sea; and, indeed, we trembled as we gazed around us,
for we were now beyond the shelter of the islands, and it seemed as
though any of the huge billows, which curled over in masses of
foam, might swallow us up in a moment. The water, also, began to
wash in over our sides, and I had to keep constantly baling, for
Jack could not quit the helm nor Peterkin the sail for an instant,
without endangering our lives. In the midst of this distress Jack
uttered an exclamation of hope, and pointed towards a low island or
rock which lay directly ahead. It had been hitherto unobserved,
owing to the dark clouds that obscured the sky and the blinding
spray that seemed to fill the whole atmosphere.
As we neared this rock we observed that it was quite destitute of
trees and verdure, and so low that the sea broke completely over
it. In fact it was nothing more than the summit of one of the
coral formations, which rose only a few feet above the level of the
water, and was, in stormy weather, all but invisible. Over this
island the waves were breaking in the utmost fury, and our hearts
sank within us as we saw that there was not a spot where we could
thrust our little boat without its being dashed to pieces.
"Show a little bit more sail," cried Jack, as we swept past the
weather side of the rock with fearful speed.
"Ay, ay," answered Peterkin, hoisting about a foot more of our
Little though the addition was it caused the boat to lie over and
creak so loudly, as we cleft the foaming waves, that I expected to
be upset every instant; and I blamed Jack in my heart for his
rashness. But I did him injustice, for, although during two
seconds the water rushed in-board in a torrent, he succeeded in
steering us sharply round to the leeward side of the rock, where
the water was comparatively calm, and the force of the breeze
"Out your oars now, lads; that's well done. Give way!" We obeyed
instantly. The oars splashed into the waves together. One good
hearty pull, and we were floating in a comparatively calm creek
that was so narrow as to be barely able to admit our boat. Here we
were in perfect safety, and, as we leaped on shore and fastened our
cable to the rocks, I thanked God in my heart for our deliverance
from so great danger. But, although I have said we were now in
safety, I suspect that few of my readers would have envied our
position. It is true we had no lack of food, but we were drenched
to the skin; the sea was foaming round us and the spray flying over
our heads, so that we were completely enveloped, as it were, in
water; the spot on which we had landed was not more than twelve
yards in diameter, and from this spot we could not move without the
risk of being swept away by the storm. At the upper end of the
creek was a small hollow or cave in the rock, which sheltered us
from the fury of the winds and waves; and as the rock extended in a
sort of ledge over our heads, it prevented the spray from falling
"Why," said Peterkin, beginning to feel cheery again, "it seems to
me that we have got into a mermaid's cave, for there is nothing but
water all round us; and as for earth or sky, they are things of the
Peterkin's idea was not inappropriate, for, what with the sea
roaring in white foam up to our very feet, and the spray flying in
white sheets continually over our heads, and the water dripping
heavily from the ledge above like a curtain in front of our cave,
it did seem to us very much more like being below than above water.
"Now, boys," cried Jack, "bestir yourselves, and let's make
ourselves comfortable. Toss out our provisions, Peterkin; and
here, Ralph, lend a hand to haul up the boat. Look sharp."
"Ay, ay, captain," we cried, as we hastened to obey, much cheered
by the hearty manner of our comrade.
Fortunately the cave, although not very deep, was quite dry, so
that we succeeded in making ourselves much more comfortable than
could have been expected. We landed our provisions, wrung the
water out of our garments, spread our sail below us for a carpet,
and, after having eaten a hearty meal, began to feel quite
cheerful. But as night drew on, our spirits sank again, for with
the daylight all evidence of our security vanished away. We could
no longer see the firm rock on which we lay, while we were stunned
with the violence of the tempest that raged around us. The night
grew pitchy dark, as it advanced, so that we could not see our
hands when we held them up before our eyes, and were obliged to
feel each other occasionally to make sure that we were safe, for
the storm at last became so terrible that it was difficult to make
our voices audible. A slight variation of the wind, as we
supposed, caused a few drops of spray ever and anon to blow into
our faces; and the eddy of the sea, in its mad boiling, washed up
into our little creek until it reached our feet and threatened to
tear away our boat. In order to prevent this latter calamity, we
hauled the boat farther up and held the cable in our hands.
Occasional flashes of lightning shone with a ghastly glare through
the watery curtains around us, and lent additional horror to the
scene. Yet we longed for those dismal flashes, for they were less
appalling than the thick blackness that succeeded them. Crashing
peals of thunder seemed to tear the skies in twain, and fell upon
our ears through the wild yelling of the hurricane as if it had
been but a gentle summer breeze; while the billows burst upon the
weather side of the island until we fancied that the solid rock was
giving way, and, in our agony, we clung to the bare ground,
expecting every moment to be whirled away and whelmed in the black
howling sea! Oh! it was a night of terrible anxiety, and no one
can conceive the feelings of intense gratitude and relief with
which we at last saw the dawn of day break through the vapory mists
For three days and three nights we remained on this rock, while the
storm continued to rage with unabated fury. On the morning of the
fourth day it suddenly ceased, and the wind fell altogether; but
the waves still ran so high that we did not dare to put off in our
boat. During the greater part of this period we scarcely slept
above a few minutes at a time, but on the third night we slept
soundly and awoke early on the fourth morning to find the sea very
much down, and the sun shining brightly again in the clear blue
It was with light hearts that we launched forth once more in our
little boat and steered away for our island home, which, we were
overjoyed to find, was quite visible on the horizon, for we had
feared that we had been blown out of sight of it altogether. As it
was a dead calm we had to row during the greater part of the day;
but towards the afternoon a fair breeze sprang up, which enabled us
to hoist our sail. We soon passed Penguin Island, and the other
island which we had failed to reach on the day the storm commenced;
but as we had still enough of provisions, and were anxious to get
home, we did not land, to the great disappointment of Peterkin, who
seemed to entertain quite an affection for the penguins.
Although the breeze was pretty fresh for several hours, we did not
reach the outer reef of our island till night-fall, and before we
had sailed more than a hundred yards into the lagoon, the wind died
away altogether, so that we had to take to our oars again. It was
late and the moon and stars were shining brightly when we arrived
opposite the bower and leaped upon the strand. So glad were we to
be safe back again on our beloved island, that we scarcely took
time to drag the boat a short way up the beach, and then ran up to
see that all was right at the bower. I must confess, however, that
my joy was mingled with a vague sort of fear lest our home had been
visited and destroyed during our absence; but on reaching it we
found everything just as it had been left, and the poor black cat
curled up, sound asleep, on the coral table in front of our humble
Shoemaking - The even tenor of our way suddenly interrupted - An
unexpected visit and an appalling battle - We all become warriors,
and Jack proves himself be a hero.
FOR many months after this we continued to live on our island in
uninterrupted harmony and happiness. Sometimes we went out a-
fishing in the lagoon, and sometimes went a-hunting in the woods,
or ascended to the mountain top, by way of variety, although
Peterkin always asserted that we went for the purpose of hailing
any ship that might chance to heave in sight. But I am certain
that none of us wished to be delivered from our captivity, for we
were extremely happy, and Peterkin used to say that as we were very
young we should not feel the loss of a year or two. Peterkin, as I
have said before, was thirteen years of age, Jack eighteen, and I
fifteen. But Jack was very tall, strong, and manly for his age,
and might easily have been mistaken for twenty.
The climate was so beautiful that it seemed to be a perpetual
summer, and as many of the fruit-trees continued to bear fruit and
blossom all the year round, we never wanted for a plentiful supply
of food. The hogs, too, seemed rather to increase than diminish,
although Peterkin was very frequent in his attacks on them with his
spear. If at any time we failed in finding a drove, we had only to
pay a visit to the plum-tree before mentioned, where we always
found a large family of them asleep under its branches.
We employed ourselves very busily during this time in making
various garments of cocoa-nut cloth, as those with which we had
landed were beginning to be very ragged. Peterkin also succeeded
in making excellent shoes out of the skin of the old hog, in the
following manner:- He first cut a piece of the hide, of an oblong
form, a few inches longer than his foot. This he soaked in water,
and, while it was wet, he sewed up one end of it, so as to form a
rough imitation of that part of the heel of a shoe where the seam
is. This done, he bored a row of holes all round the edge of the
piece of skin, through which a tough line was passed. Into the
sewed-up part of this shoe he thrust his heel, then, drawing the
string tight, the edges rose up and overlapped his foot all round.
It is true there were a great many ill-looking puckers in these
shoes, but we found them very serviceable notwithstanding, and Jack
came at last to prefer them to his long boots. We ago made various
other useful articles, which added to our comfort, and once or
twice spoke of building us a house, but we had so great an
affection for the bower, and, withal, found it so serviceable, that
we determined not to leave it, nor to attempt the building of a
house, which, in such a climate, might turn out to be rather
disagreeable than useful.
We often examined the pistol that we had found in the house on the
other side of the island, and Peterkin wished much that we had
powder and shot, as it would render pig-killing much easier; but,
after all, we had become so expert in the use of our sling and bow
and spear, that we were independent of more deadly weapons.
Diving in the Water Garden also continued to afford us as much
pleasure as ever; and Peterkin began to be a little more expert in
the water from constant practice. As for Jack and I, we began to
feel as if water were our native element, and revelled in it with
so much confidence and comfort that Peterkin said he feared we
would turn into fish some day, and swim off and leave him; adding,
that he had been for a long time observing that Jack was becoming
more and more like a shark every day. Whereupon Jack remarked,
that if he, Peterkin, were changed into a fish, he would certainly
turn into nothing better or bigger than a shrimp. Poor Peterkin
did not envy us our delightful excursions under water, except,
indeed, when Jack would dive down to the bottom of the Water
Garden, sit down on a rock and look up and make faces at him.
Peterkin did feel envious then, and often said he would give
anything to be able to do that. I was much amused when Peterkin
said this; for if he could only have seen his own face when he
happened to take a short dive, he would have seen that Jack's was
far surpassed by it. The great difference being, however, that
Jack made faces on purpose - Peterkin couldn't help it!
Now, while we were engaged with these occupations and amusements,
an event occurred one day which was as unexpected as it was
exceedingly alarming and very horrible.
Jack and I were sitting, as we were often wont to do, on the rocks
at Spouting Cliff, and Peterkin was wringing the water from his
garments, having recently fallen by accident into the sea, - a
thing he was constantly doing, - when our attention was suddenly
arrested by two objects which appeared on the horizon.
"What are yon, think you?" I said, addressing Jack.
"I can't imagine," answered he; "I've noticed them for some time,
and fancied they were black sea-gulls, but the more I look at them
the more I feel convinced they are much larger than gulls."
"They seem to be coming towards us," said I.
"Hallo! what's wrong?" inquired Peterkin, coming up.
"Look there," said Jack.
"Whales!" cried Peterkin, shading his eyes with his hand. "No! eh!
can they be boats, Jack?"
Our hearts beat with excitement at the very thought of seeing human
"I think you are about right, Peterkin; - but they seem to me to
move strangely for boats," said Jack, in a low tone, as if he were
talking to himself.
I noticed that a shade of anxiety crossed Jack's countenance as he
gazed long and intently at the two objects, which were now nearing
us fast. At last he sprang to his feet. "They are canoes, Ralph!
whether war-canoes or not I cannot tell, but this I know, that all
the natives of the South Sea Islands are fierce cannibals, and they
have little respect for strangers. We must hide if they land here,
which I earnestly hope they will not do."
I was greatly alarmed at Jack's speech, but I confess I thought
less of what he said than of the earnest, anxious manner in which
he said it, and it was with very uncomfortable feelings that
Peterkin and I followed him quickly into the woods.
"How unfortunate," said I, as we gained the shelter of the bushes,
"that we have forgotten our arms."
"It matters not," said Jack; "here are clubs enough and to spare."
As he spoke, he laid his hand on a bundle of stout poles of various
sizes, which Peterkin's ever-busy hands had formed, during our
frequent visits to the cliff, for no other purpose, apparently,
than that of having something to do.
We each selected a stout club according to our several tastes, and
lay down behind a rock, whence we could see the canoes approach,
without ourselves being seen. At first we made an occasional
remark on their appearance, but after they entered the lagoon, and
drew near the beach, we ceased to speak, and gazed with intense
interest at the scene before us.
We now observed that the foremost canoe was being chased by the
other, and that it contained a few women and children, as well as
men, - perhaps forty souls altogether; while the canoe which
pursued it contained only men. They seemed to be about the same in
number, but were better armed, and had the appearance of being a
war party. Both crews were paddling with all their might, and it
seemed as if the pursuers exerted themselves to overtake the
natives ere they could land. In this, however, they failed. The
foremost canoe made for the beach close beneath the rocks behind
which we were concealed. Their short paddles flashed like meteors
in the water, and sent up a constant shower of spray. The foam
curled from the prow, and the eyes of the rowers glistened in their
black faces as they strained every muscle of their naked bodies;
nor did they relax their efforts till the canoe struck the beach
with a violent shock; then, with a shout of defiance, the whole
party sprang, as if by magic, from the canoe to the shore. Three
women, two of whom carried infants in their arms, rushed into the
woods; and the men crowded to the water's edge, with stones in
their hands, spears levelled, and clubs brandished, to resist the
landing of their enemies.
The distance between the two canoes had been about half a mile,
and, at the great speed they were going, this was soon passed. As
the pursuers neared the shore, no sign of fear or hesitation was
noticeable. On they came like a wild charger, - received but
recked not of a shower of stones. The canoe struck, and, with a
yell that seemed to issue from the throats of incarnate fiends,
they leaped into the water, and drove their enemies up the beach.
The battle that immediately ensued was frightful to behold. Most
of the men wielded clubs of enormous size and curious shapes, with
which they dashed out each other's brains. As they were almost
entirely naked, and had to bound, stoop, leap, and run, in their
terrible hand-to-hand encounters, they looked more like demons than
human beings. I felt my heart grow sick at the sight of this
bloody battle, and would fain have turned away, but a species of
fascination seemed to hold me down and glue my eyes upon the
combatants. I observed that the attacking party was led by a most
extraordinary being, who, from his size and peculiarity, I
concluded was a chief. His hair was frizzed out to an enormous
extent, so that it resembled a large turban. It was of a light-
yellow hue, which surprised me much, for the man's body was as
black as coal, and I felt convinced that the hair must have been
dyed. He was tattooed from head to foot; and his face, besides
being tattooed, was besmeared with red paint, and streaked with
white. Altogether, with his yellow turban-like hair, his Herculean
black frame, his glittering eyes and white teeth, he seemed the
most terrible monster I ever beheld. He was very active in the
fight, and had already killed four men.
Suddenly the yellow-haired chief was attacked by a man quite as
strong and large as himself. He flourished a heavy club something
like an eagle's beak at the point. For a second or two these
giants eyed each other warily, moving round and round, as if to
catch each other at a disadvantage, but seeing that nothing was to
be gained by this caution, and that the loss of time might
effectually turn the tide of battle either way, they apparently
made up their minds to attack at the same instant, for, with a wild
shout and simultaneous spring, they swung their heavy clubs, which
met with a loud report. Suddenly the yellow-haired savage tripped,
his enemy sprang forward, the ponderous club was swung, but it did
not descend, for at that moment the savage was felled to the ground
by a stone from the hand of one who had witnessed his chief's
danger. This was the turning-point in the battle. The savages who
landed first turned and fled towards the bush, on seeing the fall
of their chief. But not one escaped. They were all overtaken and
felled to the earth. I saw, however, that they were not all
killed. Indeed, their enemies, now that they were conquered,
seemed anxious to take them alive; and they succeeded in securing
fifteen, whom they bound hand and foot with cords, and, carrying
them up into the woods, laid them down among the bushes. Here they
left them, for what purpose I knew not, and returned to the scene
of the late battle, where the remnant of the party were bathing
Out of the forty blacks that composed the attacking party, only
twenty-eight remained alive, two of whom were sent into the bush to
hunt for the women and children. Of the other party, as I have
said, only ten survived, and these were lying bound and helpless on
Jack and Peterkin and I now looked at each other, and whispered our
fears that the savages might clamber up the rocks to search for
fresh water, and so discover our place of concealment; but we were
so much interested in watching their movements that we agreed to
remain where we were; and, indeed, we could not easily have risen
without exposing ourselves to detection. One of the savages now
went up to the wood and soon returned with a bundle of fire-wood,
and we were not a little surprised to see him set fire to it by the
very same means used by Jack the time we made our first fire, -
namely, with the bow and drill. When the fire was kindled, two of
the party went again to the woods and returned with one of the
bound men. A dreadful feeling of horror crept over my heart, as
the thought flashed upon me that they were going to burn their
enemies. As they bore him to the fire my feelings almost
overpowered me. I gasped for breath, and seizing my club,
endeavoured to spring to my feet; but Jack's powerful arm pinned me
to the earth. Next moment one of the savages raised his club, and
fractured the wretched creature's skull. He must have died
instantly, and, strange though it may seem, I confess to a feeling
of relief when the deed was done, because I now knew that the poor
savage could not be burned alive. Scarcely had his limbs ceased to
quiver when the monsters cut slices of flesh from his body, and,
after roasting them slightly over the fire, devoured them.
Suddenly there arose a cry from the woods, and, in a few seconds,
the two savages hastened towards the fire dragging the three women
and their two infants along with them. One of those women was much
younger than her companions, and we were struck with the modesty of
her demeanour and the gentle expression of her face, which,
although she had the flattish nose and thick lips of the others,
was of a light-brown colour, and we conjectured that she must be of
a different race. She and her companions wore short petticoats and
a kind of tippet on their shoulders. Their hair was jet black, but
instead of being long, was short and curly, - though not woolly -
somewhat like the hair of a young boy. While we gazed with
interest and some anxiety at these poor creatures, the big chief
advanced to one of the elder females and laid his hand upon the
child. But the mother shrank from him, and clasping the little one
to her bosom, uttered a wail of fear. With a savage laugh, the
chief tore the child from her arms and tossed it into the sea. A
low groan burst from Jack's lips as we witnessed this atrocious act
and heard the mother's shriek, as she fell insensible on the sand.
The rippling waves rolled the child on the beach, as if they
refused to be a party in such a foul murder, and we could observe
that the little one still lived.
The young girl was now brought forward, and the chief addressed
her; but although we heard his voice, and even the words
distinctly, of course we could not understand what he said. The
girl made no answer to his fierce questions, and we saw by the way
in which he pointed to the fire that he threatened her life.
"Peterkin," said Jack in a hoarse whisper, "have you got your
"Yes," replied Peterkin, whose face was pale as death.
"That will do. Listen to me, and do my bidding quick. Here is the
small knife, Ralph. Fly both of you through the bush, cut the
cords that bind the prisoners and set them free. There! quick, ere
it be too late. Jack sprang up, and seized a heavy but short
bludgeon, while his strong frame trembled with emotion, and large
drops rolled down his forehead.
At this moment the man who had butchered the savage a few minutes
before advanced towards the girl with his heavy club. Jack uttered
a yell that rang like a death-shriek among the rocks. With one
bound he leaped over a precipice full fifteen feet high, and,
before the savages had recovered from their surprise, was in the
midst of them; while Peterkin and I dashed through the bushes
towards the prisoners. With one blow of his staff Jack felled the
man with the club, then, turning round with a look of fury, he
rushed upon the big chief with the yellow hair. Had the blow which
Jack aimed at his head taken effect, the huge savage would have
needed no second stroke; but he was agile as a cat, and avoided it
by springing to one side, while, at the same time, he swung his
ponderous club at the head of his foe. It was now Jack's turn to
leap aside, and well was it for him that the first outburst of his
blind fury was over, else he had become an easy prey to his
gigantic antagonist; but Jack was cool now. He darted his blows
rapidly and well, and the superiority of his light weapon was
strikingly proved in this combat, for while he could easily evade
the blows of the chief's heavy club, the chief could not so easily
evade those of his light one. Nevertheless, so quick was he, and
so frightfully did he fling about the mighty weapon, that, although
Jack struck him almost every blow, the strokes had to be delivered
so quickly that they wanted force to be very effectual
It was lucky for Jack that the other savages considered the success
of their chief in this encounter to be so certain that they
refrained from interfering. Had they doubted it, they would have
probably ended the matter at once by felling him. But they
contented themselves with awaiting the issue.
The force which the chief expended in wielding his club now began
to be apparent. His movements became slower, his breath hissed
through his clenched teeth, and the surprised savages drew nearer
in order to render assistance. Jack observed this movement. He
felt that his fate was sealed, and resolved to cast his life upon
the next blow. The chiefs club was again about to descend on his
head. He might have evaded it easily, but instead of doing so, he
suddenly shortened his grasp of his own club, rushed in under the
blow, struck his adversary right between the eyes with all his
force and fell to the earth, crushed beneath the senseless body of
the chief. A dozen clubs flew high in air ready to descend on the
head of Jack, but they hesitated a moment, for the massive body of
the chief completely covered him. That moment saved his life. Ere
the savages could tear the chief's body away, seven of their number
fell prostrate beneath the clubs of the prisoners whom Peterkin and
I had set free, and two others fell under our own hand. We could
never have accomplished this had not our enemies been so engrossed
with the fight between Jack and their chief that they had failed to
observe us until we were upon them. They still out-numbered our
party by three, but we were flushed with victory while they were
taken by surprise and dispirited by the fall of their chief.
Moreover, they were awe-struck by the sweeping fury of Jack, who
seemed to have lost his senses altogether, and had no sooner shaken
himself free of the chief's body than he rushed into the midst of
them, and in three blows equalized our numbers. Peterkin and I
flew to the rescue, the savages followed us, and, in less than ten
minutes, the whole of our opponents were knocked down or made
prisoners, bound hand and foot, and extended side by side upon the
Intercourse with the savages - Cannibalism prevented - The slain
are buried and the survivors depart, leaving us again alone on our
AFTER the battle was over, the savages crowded round us and gazed
at us in surprise, while they continued to pour upon us a flood of
questions, which, being wholly unintelligible, of course we could
not answer. However, by way of putting an end to it, Jack took the
chief (who had recovered from the effects of his wound) by the hand
and shook it warmly. No sooner did the blacks see that this was
meant to express good-will than they shook hands with us all round.
After this ceremony was gone through Jack went up to the girl, who
had never once moved from the rock where she had been left, but had
continued an eager spectator of all that had passed. He made signs
to her to follow him and then, taking the chief by the hand, was
about to conduct him to the bower when his eye fell on the poor
infant which had been thrown into the sea and was still lying on
the shore. Dropping the chief's hand he hastened towards it, and,
to his great joy, found it to be still alive. We also found that
the mother was beginning to recover slowly.
"Here, get out o' the way," said Jack, pushing us aside, as we
stooped over the poor woman and endeavoured to restore her, "I'll
soon bring her round." So saying, he placed the infant on her
bosom and laid its warm cheek on hers. The effect was wonderful.
The woman opened her eyes, felt the child, looked at it, and with a
cry of joy clasped it in her arms, at the same time endeavouring to
rise, for the purpose, apparently, of rushing into the woods.
"There, that's all right," said Jack, once more taking the chief by
the hand. "Now Ralph and Peterkin, make the women and these
fellows follow me to the bower. Well entertain them as hospitably
as we can."
In a few minutes the savages were all seated on the ground in front
of the bower making a hearty meal off a cold roast pig, several
ducks, and a variety of cold fish, together with an unlimited
supply of cocoa-nuts, bread-fruits, yams, taro, and plums; with all
of which they seemed to be quite familiar and perfectly satisfied.
Meanwhile, we three being thoroughly knocked up with our day's
work, took a good draught of cocoa-nut lemonade, and throwing
ourselves on our beds fell fast asleep. The savages it seems
followed our example, and in half-an-hour the whole camp was buried
How long we slept I cannot tell, but this I know, that when we lay
down the sun was setting and when we awoke it was high in the
heavens. I awoke Jack, who started up in surprise, being unable at
first to comprehend our situation. "Now, then," said he, springing
up, "let's see after breakfast. Hallo! Peterkin, lazy fellow, how
long do you mean to lie there?"
Peterkin yawned heavily. "Well!" said he, opening his eyes and
looking up after some trouble, "if it isn't to-morrow morning, and
me thinking it was to-day all this time. Hallo! Venus, where did
you come from? you seem tolerably at home, any how. Bah! might as
well speak to the cat as to you - better, in fact, for it
understands me, and you don't."
This remark was called forth by the sight of one of the elderly
females, who had seated herself on the rock in front of the bower,
and, having placed her child at her feet, was busily engaged in
devouring the remains of a roast pig.
By this time the natives outside were all astir, and breakfast in
an advanced state of preparation. During the course of it we made
sundry attempts to converse with the natives by signs, but without
effect. At last we hit upon a plan of discovering their names.
Jack pointed to his breast and add "Jack," very distinctly; then he
pointed to Peterkin and to me, repeating our names at the same
time. Then he pointed to himself again, and said "Jack," and
laying his finger on the breast of the chief, looked inquiringly
into his face. The chief instantly understood him and said
"Tararo," twice, distinctly. Jack repeated it after him, and the
chief, nodding his head approvingly, said "Chuck." On hearing
which, Peterkin exploded with laughter; but Jack turned and with a
frown rebuked him, saying, "I must look even more indignantly at
you than I feel, Peterkin, you rascal, for these fellows don't like
to be laughed at." Then turning towards the youngest of the women,
who was seated at the door of the bower, he pointed to her;
whereupon the chief said, "Avatea;" and pointing towards the sun,
raised his finger slowly towards the zenith, where it remained
steadily for a minute or two.
"What can that mean, I wonder," said Jack, looking puzzled.
"Perhaps," said Peterkin, "the chief means she is an angel come
down to stay here for a while. If so, she's an uncommonly black
We did not feel quite satisfied with this explanation, so Jack went
up to her and said, "Avatea." The woman smiled sadly, and nodded
her head, at the same time pointing to her breast and then to the
sun, in the same manner as the chief had done. We were much
puzzled to know what this could signify, but as there was no way of
solving our difficulty we were obliged to rest content.
Jack now made signs to the natives to follow him, and, taking up
his axe, he led them to the place where the battle had been fought.
Here we found the prisoners, who had passed the night on the beach
having been totally forgotten by us, as our minds had been full of
our guests, and were ultimately overcome by sleep. They did not
seem the worse for their exposure, however, as we judged by the
hearty appetite with which they devoured the breakfast that was
soon after given to them. Jack then began to dig a hole in the
sand, and, after working a few seconds, he pointed to it and to the
dead bodies that lay exposed on the beach. The natives immediately
perceived what he wanted, and, running for their paddles, dug a
hole in the course of half an hour that was quite large enough to
contain all the bodies of the slain. When it was finished they
tossed their dead enemies into it with so much indifference that we
felt assured they would not have put themselves to this trouble had
we not asked them to do so. The body of the yellow-haired chief
was the last thrown in. This wretched man would have recovered
from the blow with which Jack felled him, and, indeed, he did
endeavour to rise during the melee that followed his fall, but one
of his enemies, happening to notice the action, dealt him a blow
with his club that killed him on the spot.
While they were about to throw the sand over this chief, one of the
savages stooped over him, and with a knife, made apparently of
stone, cut a large slice of flesh from his thigh. We knew at once
that he intended to make use of this for food, and could not
repress a cry of horror and disgust.
"Come, come, you blackguard," cried Jack, starting up and seizing
the man by the arm, "pitch that into the hole. Do you hear?"
The savage of course did not understand the command, but he
perfectly understood the look of disgust with which Jack regarded
the flesh, and his fierce gaze as he pointed towards the hole.
Nevertheless he did not obey. Jack instantly turned to Tararo and
made signs to him to enforce obedience. The chief seemed to
understand the appeal, for he stepped forward, raised his club, and
was on the point of dashing out the brains of his offending
subject, when Jack sprang forward and caught his uplifted arm.
"Stop!" he shouted, "you blockhead, I don't want you to kill the
man." He then pointed again to the flesh and to the hole. The
chief uttered a few words, which had the desired effect; for the
man threw the flesh into the hole, which was immediately filled up.
This man was of a morose, sulky disposition, and, during all the
time he remained on the island, regarded us, especially Jack, with
a scowling visage. His name, we found, was Mahine.
The next three or four days were spent by the savages in mending
their canoe, which had been damaged by the violent shock it had
sustained on striking the shore. This canoe was a very curious
structure. It was about thirty feet long, and had a high towering
stern. The timbers, of which it was partly composed, were fastened
much in the same way as those of our little boat were put together;
but the part that seemed most curious to us was a sort of out-
rigger, or long plank, which was attached to the body of the canoe
by means of two stout cross beams. These beams kept the plank
parallel with the canoe, but not in contact with it, for it floated
in the water with an open space between; thus forming a sort of
double canoe. This we found was intended to prevent the upsetting
of the canoe, which was so narrow that it could not have maintained
an upright position without the out-rigger. We could not help
wondering both at the ingenuity and the clumsiness of this
When the canoe was ready, we assisted the natives to carry the
prisoners into it, and helped them to load it with provisions and
fruit. Peterkin also went to the plum-tree for the purpose of
making a special onslaught upon the hogs, and killed no less than
six of them. These we baked and presented to our friends on the
day of their departure. On that day Tararo made a great many
energetic signs to us, which, after much consideration, we came to
understand were proposals that we should go away with him to his
island; but, having no desire to do so, we shook our heads very
decidedly. However, we consoled him by presenting him with our
rusty axe, which we thought we could spare, having the excellent
one which had been so providentially washed ashore to us the day we
were wrecked. We also gave him a piece of wood with our names
carved on it, and a piece of string to hang it round his neck as an
In a few minutes more we were all assembled on the beach. Being
unable to speak to the savages, we went through the ceremony of
shaking hands, and expected they would depart; but, before doing
so, Tararo went up to Jack and rubbed noses with him, after which
he did the same with Peterkin and me! Seeing that this was their
mode of salutation, we determined to conform to their custom, so we
rubbed noses heartily with the whole party, women and all! The
only disagreeable part of the process was, when we came to rub
noses with Mahine, and Peterkin afterwards said, that when he saw
his wolfish eyes glaring so close to his face, he felt much more
inclined to BANG than to RUB his nose. Avatea was the last to take
leave of us, and we experienced a feeling of real sorrow when she
approached to bid us farewell. Besides her modest air and gentle
manners she was the only one of the party who exhibited the
smallest sign of regret at parting from us. Going up to Jack, she
put out her flat little nose to be rubbed, and thereafter paid the
same compliment to Peterkin and me.
An hour later the canoe was out of sight, and we, with an
indefinable feeling of sadness creeping round our hearts, were
seated in silence beneath the shadow of our bower, meditating on
the wonderful events of the last few days.
Sagacious and moral remarks in regard to life - A sail! - An
unexpected salute - The end of the black cat - A terrible dive - An
incautious proceeding and a frightful catastrophe.
LIFE is a strange compound. Peterkin used to say of it, that it
beat a druggist's shop all to sticks; for, whereas the first is a
compound of good and bad, the other is a horrible compound of all
that is utterly detestable. And indeed the more I consider it the
more I am struck with the strange mixture of good and evil that
exists not only in the material earth but in our own natures. In
our own Coral Island we had experienced every variety of good that
a bountiful Creator could heap on us. Yet on the night of the
storm we had seen how almost, in our case, - and altogether, no
doubt, in the case of others less fortunate - all this good might
be swept away for ever. We had seen the rich fruit-trees waving in
the soft air, the tender herbs shooting upwards under the benign
influence of the bright sun; and, the next day, we had seen these
good and beautiful trees and plants uprooted by the hurricane,
crushed and hurled to the ground in destructive devastation. We
had lived for many months in a clime for the most part so
beautiful, that we had often wondered whether Adam and Eve had
found Eden more sweet; and we had seen the quiet solitudes of our
paradise suddenly broken in upon by ferocious savages, and the
white sands stained with blood and strewed with lifeless forms;
yet, among these cannibals, we had seen many symptoms of a kindly
nature. I pondered these things much, and, while I considered
them, there recurred to my memory those words which I had read in
my Bible, - the works of God are wonderful, and his ways past
After these poor savages had left us, we used to hold long and
frequent conversations about them, and I noticed that Peterkin's
manner was now much altered. He did not, indeed, jest less
heartily than before, but he did so less frequently, and often
there was a tone of deep seriousness in his manner, if not in his
words, which made him seem to Jack and me as if he had grown two
years older within a few days. But indeed I was not surprised at
this, when I reflected on the awful realities which we had
witnessed so lately. We could by no means shake off a tendency to
gloom for several weeks afterwards; but, as time wore away, our
usual good spirits returned somewhat, and we began to think of the
visit of the savages with feelings akin to those with which we
recall a terrible dream.
One day we were all enjoying ourselves in the Water Garden,
preparatory to going on a fishing excursion; for Peterkin had kept
us in such constant supply of hogs that we had become quite tired
of pork, and desired a change. Peterkin was sunning himself on the
ledge of rock, while we were creeping among the rocks below.
Happening to look up, I observed Peterkin cutting the most
extraordinary capers and making violent gesticulations for us to
come up; so I gave Jack a push, and rose immediately.
"A sail! a sail! Ralph, look! Jack, away on the horizon there,
just over the entrance to the lagoon!" cried Peterkin, as we
scrambled up the rocks.
"So it is, and a schooner, too!" said Jack, as he proceeded hastily
Our hearts were thrown into a terrible flutter by this discovery,
for if it should touch at our island we had no doubt the captain
would be happy to give us a passage to some of the civilized
islands, where we could find a ship sailing for England, or some
other part of Europe. Home, with all its associations, rushed in
upon my heart like a flood, and, much though I loved the Coral
Island and the bower which had now been our home so long, I felt
that I could have quitted all at that moment without a sigh. With
joyful anticipations we hastened to the highest point of rock near
our dwelling, and awaited the arrival of the vessel, for we now
perceived that she was making straight for the island, under a
In less than an hour she was close to the reef, where she rounded
to, and backed her topsails in order to survey the coast. Seeing
this, and fearing that they might not perceive us, we all three
waved pieces of cocoa-nut cloth in the air, and soon had the
satisfaction of seeing them beginning to lower a boat and bustle
about the decks as if they meant to land. Suddenly a flag was run
up to the peak, a little cloud of white smoke rose from the
schooner's side, and, before we could guess their intentions, a
cannon-shot came crashing through the bushes, carried away several
cocoa-nut trees in its passage, and burst in atoms against the
cliff a few yards below the spot on which we stood.
With feelings of terror we now observed that the flag at the
schooner's peak was black, with a Death's head and cross bones upon
it. As we gazed at each other in blank amazement, the word
"pirate" escaped our lips simultaneously.
"What is to be done?" cried Peterkin, as we observed a boat shoot
from the vessel's side, and make for the entrance of the reef. "If
they take us off the island, it will either be to throw us
overboard for sport, or to make pirates of us."
I did not reply, but looked at Jack, as being our only resource in
this emergency. He stood with folded arms, and his eyes fixed with
a grave, anxious expression on the ground. "There is but one
hope," said he, turning with a sad expression of countenance to
Peterkin; "perhaps, after all, we may not have to resort to it. If
these villains are anxious to take us, they will soon overrun the
whole island. But come, follow me."
Stopping abruptly in his speech, Jack bounded into the woods, and
led us by a circuitous route to Spouting Cliff. Here he halted,
and, advancing cautiously to the rocks, glanced over their edge.
We were soon by his side, and saw the boat, which was crowded with
armed men, just touching the shore. In an instant the crew landed,
formed line, and rushed up to our bower.
In a few seconds we saw them hurrying back to the boat, one of them
swinging the poor cat round his head by the tail. On reaching the
water's edge, he tossed it far into the sea, and joined his
companions, who appeared to be holding a hasty council.
"You see what we may expect," said Jack bitterly. "The man who
will wantonly kill a poor brute for sport will think little of
murdering a fellow-creature. Now, boys, we have but one chance
left, - the Diamond Cave."
"The Diamond Cave!" cried Peterkin, "then my chance is a poor one,
for I could not dive into it if all the pirates on the Pacific were
at my heels."
"Nay, but," said I, "we will take you down, Peterkin, if you will
only trust us."
As I spoke, we observed the pirates scatter over the beach, and
radiate, as if from a centre, towards the woods and along shore.
"Now, Peterkin," said Jack, in a solemn tone, "you must make up
your mind to do it, or we must make up our minds to die in your
"Oh, Jack, my dear friend," cried Peterkin, turning pale, "leave
me; I don't believe they'll think it worth while to kill me. Go,
you and Ralph, and dive into the cave."
"That will not I," answered Jack quietly, while he picked up a
stout cudgel from the ground. "So now, Ralph, we must prepare to
meet these fellows. Their motto is, 'No quarter.' If we can
manage to floor those coming in this direction, we may escape into
the woods for a while."
"There are five of them," said I; "we have no chance."
"Come, then," cried Peterkin, starting up, and grasping Jack
convulsively by the arm, "let us dive; I will go."
Those who are not naturally expert in the water know well the
feelings of horror that overwhelm them, when in it, at the bare
idea of being held down, even for a few seconds, - that spasmodic,
involuntary recoil from compulsory immersion which has no
connection whatever with cowardice; and they will understand the
amount of resolution that it required in Peterkin to allow himself
to be dragged down to a depth of ten feet, and then, through a
narrow tunnel, into an almost pitch-dark cavern. But there was no
alternative. The pirates had already caught sight of us, and were
now within a short distance of the rocks.
Jack and I seized Peterkin by the arms.
"Now, keep quite still, no struggling," said Jack, "or we are
Peterkin made no reply, but the stern gravity of his marble
features, and the tension of his muscles, satisfied us that he had
fully made up his mind to go through with it. Just as the pirates
gained the foot of the rocks, which hid us for a moment from their
view, we bent over the sea, and plunged down together head
foremost. Peterkin behaved like a hero. He floated passively
between us like a log of wood, and we passed the tunnel and rose
into the cave in a shorter space of time than I had ever done it
Peterkin drew a long, deep breath on reaching the surface; and in a
few seconds we were all standing on the ledge of rock in safety.
Jack now searched for the tinder and torch, which always lay in the
cave. He soon found them, and, lighting the torch, revealed to
Peterkin's wondering gaze the marvels of the place. But we were
too wet to waste much time in looking about us. Our first care was
to take off our clothes, and wring them as dry as we could. This
done, we proceeded to examine into the state of our larder, for, as
Jack truly remarked, there was no knowing how long the pirates
might remain on the island.
"Perhaps," said Peterkin, "they may take it into their heads to
stop here altogether, and so we shall be buried alive in this
"Don't you think, Peterkin, that it's the nearest thing to being
drowned alive that you ever felt?" said Jack with a smile. "But
I've no fear of that. These villains never stay long on shore.
The sea is their home, so you may depend upon it that they won't
stay more than a day or two at the furthest."
We now began to make arrangements for spending the night in the
cavern. At various periods Jack and I had conveyed cocoa nuts and
other fruits, besides rolls of cocoa-nut cloth, to this submarine
cave, partly for amusement, and partly from a feeling that we might
possibly be driven one day to take shelter here from the savages.
Little did we imagine that the first savages who would drive us
into it would be white savages, perhaps our own countrymen. We
found the cocoa-nuts in good condition, and the cooked yams, but
the bread-fruits were spoiled. We also found the cloth where we
had left it; and, on opening it out, there proved to be sufficient
to make a bed; which was important, as the rock was damp. Having
collected it all together, we spread out our bed, placed our torch
in the midst of us, and ate our supper. It was indeed a strange
chamber to feast in; and we could not help remarking on the cold,
ghastly appearance of the walls, and the black water at our side,
with the thick darkness beyond, and the sullen sound of the drops
that fell at long intervals from the roof of the cavern into the
still water; and the strong contrast between all this and our bed
and supper, which, with our faces, were lit up with the deep red
flame of the torch.
We sat long over our meal, talking together in subdued voices, for
we did not like the dismal echoes that rang through the vault above
when we happened to raise them. At last the faint light that came
through the opening died away, warning us that it was night and
time for rest. We therefore put out our torch and lay down to
On awaking, it was some time ere we could collect our faculties so
as to remember where we were, and we were in much uncertainty as to
whether it was early or late. We saw by the faint light that it
was day, but could not guess at the hour; so Jack proposed that he
should dive out and reconnoitre.
"No, Jack," said I, "do you rest here. You've had enough to do
during the last few days. Rest yourself now, and take care of
Peterkin, while I go out to see what the pirates are about. I'll
be very careful not to expose myself, and I'll bring you word again
in a short time."
"Very well, Ralph," answered Jack, "please yourself, but don't be
long; and if you'll take my advice you'll go in your clothes, for I
would like to have some fresh cocoa nuts, and climbing trees
without clothes is uncomfortable, to say the least of it."
"The pirates will be sure to keep a sharp lookout," said Peterkin,
"so, pray, be careful."
"No fear," said I; "good-bye."
"Good-bye," answered my comrades.
And while the words were yet sounding in my ears, I plunged into
the water, and in a few seconds found myself in the open air. On
rising, I was careful to come up gently and to breathe softly,
while I kept close in beside the rocks; but, as I observed no one
near me, I crept slowly out, and ascended the cliff a step at a
time, till I obtained a full view of the shore. No pirates were to
be seen, - even their boat was gone; but as it was possible they
might have hidden themselves, I did not venture too boldly forward.
Then it occurred to me to look out to sea, when, to my surprise, I
saw the pirate schooner sailing away almost hull-down on the
horizon! On seeing this I uttered a shout of joy. Then my first
impulse was to dive back to tell my companions the good news; but I
checked myself, and ran to the top of the cliff, in order to make
sure that the vessel I saw was indeed the pirate schooner. I
looked long and anxiously at her, and, giving vent to a deep sigh
of relief, said aloud, "Yes, there she goes; the villains have been
baulked of their prey this time at least."
"Not so sure of that!" said a deep voice at my side; while, at the
same moment, a heavy hand grasped my shoulder, and held it as if in
I fall into the hands of pirates - How they treated me, and what I
said to them - The result of the whole ending in a melancholy
separation and in a most unexpected gift.
MY heart seemed to leap into my throat at the words; and, turning
round, I beheld a man of immense stature, and fierce aspect
regarding me with a smile of contempt. He was a white man, - that
is to say, he was a man of European blood, though his face, from
long exposure to the weather, was deeply bronzed. His dress was
that of a common seaman, except that he had on a Greek skull-cap,
and wore a broad shawl of the richest silk round his waist. In
this shawl were placed two pair of pistols and a heavy cutlass. He
wore a beard and moustache, which, like the locks on his head, were
short, curly, and sprinkled with gray hairs.
"So, youngster," he said, with a Sardonic smile, while I felt his
grasp tighten on my shoulder, "the villains have been baulked of
their prey, have they? We shall see, we shall see. Now, you
whelp, look yonder. As he spoke, the pirate uttered a shrill
whistle. In a second or two it was answered, and the pirate-boat
Back to Full Books