Part 1 out of 6
The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean by R. M. Ballantyne.
Scanned and proofed by David Price
The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean
I was a boy when I went through the wonderful adventures herein set
down. With the memory of my boyish feelings strong upon me, I
present my book specially to boys, in the earnest hope that they
may derive valuable information, much pleasure, great profit, and
unbounded amusement from its pages.
One word more. If there is any boy or man who loves to be
melancholy and morose, and who cannot enter with kindly sympathy
into the regions of fun, let me seriously advise him to shut my
book and put it away. It is not meant for him.
The beginning - My early life and character - I thirst for
adventure in foreign lands and go to sea.
ROVING has always been, and still is, my ruling passion, the joy of
my heart, the very sunshine of my existence. In childhood, in
boyhood, and in man's estate, I have been a rover; not a mere
rambler among the woody glens and upon the hill-tops of my own
native land, but an enthusiastic rover throughout the length and
breadth of the wide wide world.
It was a wild, black night of howling storm, the night in which I
was born on the foaming bosom of the broad Atlantic Ocean. My
father was a sea-captain; my grandfather was a sea-captain; my
great-grandfather had been a marine. Nobody could tell positively
what occupation HIS father had followed; but my dear mother used to
assert that he had been a midshipman, whose grandfather, on the
mother's side, had been an admiral in the royal navy. At anyrate
we knew that, as far back as our family could be traced, it had
been intimately connected with the great watery waste. Indeed this
was the case on both sides of the house; for my mother always went
to sea with my father on his long voyages, and so spent the greater
part of her life upon the water.
Thus it was, I suppose, that I came to inherit a roving
disposition. Soon after I was born, my father, being old, retired
from a seafaring life, purchased a small cottage in a fishing
village on the west coast of England, and settled down to spend the
evening of his life on the shores of that sea which had for so many
years been his home. It was not long after this that I began to
show the roving spirit that dwelt within me. For some time past my
infant legs had been gaining strength, so that I came to be
dissatisfied with rubbing the skin off my chubby knees by walking
on them, and made many attempts to stand up and walk like a man;
all of which attempts, however, resulted in my sitting down
violently and in sudden surprise. One day I took advantage of my
dear mother's absence to make another effort; and, to my joy, I
actually succeeded in reaching the doorstep, over which I tumbled
into a pool of muddy water that lay before my father's cottage
door. Ah, how vividly I remember the horror of my poor mother when
she found me sweltering in the mud amongst a group of cackling
ducks, and the tenderness with which she stripped off my dripping
clothes and washed my dirty little body! From this time forth my
rambles became more frequent, and, as I grew older, more distant,
until at last I had wandered far and near on the shore and in the
woods around our humble dwelling, and did not rest content until my
father bound me apprentice to a coasting vessel, and let me go to
For some years I was happy in visiting the sea-ports, and in
coasting along the shores of my native land. My Christian name was
Ralph, and my comrades added to this the name of Rover, in
consequence of the passion which I always evinced for travelling.
Rover was not my real name, but as I never received any other I
came at last to answer to it as naturally as to my proper name;
and, as it is not a bad one, I see no good reason why I should not
introduce myself to the reader as Ralph Rover. My shipmates were
kind, good-natured fellows, and they and I got on very well
together. They did, indeed, very frequently make game of and
banter me, but not unkindly; and I overheard them sometimes saying
that Ralph Rover was a "queer, old-fashioned fellow." This, I must
confess, surprised me much, and I pondered the saying long, but
could come at no satisfactory conclusion as to that wherein my old-
fashionedness lay. It is true I was a quiet lad, and seldom spoke
except when spoken to. Moreover, I never could understand the
jokes of my companions even when they were explained to me: which
dulness in apprehension occasioned me much grief; however, I tried
to make up for it by smiling and looking pleased when I observed
that they were laughing at some witticism which I had failed to
detect. I was also very fond of inquiring into the nature of
things and their causes, and often fell into fits of abstraction
while thus engaged in my mind. But in all this I saw nothing that
did not seem to be exceedingly natural, and could by no means
understand why my comrades should call me "an old-fashioned
Now, while engaged in the coasting trade, I fell in with many
seamen who had travelled to almost every quarter of the globe; and
I freely confess that my heart glowed ardently within me as they
recounted their wild adventures in foreign lands, - the dreadful
storms they had weathered, the appalling dangers they had escaped,
the wonderful creatures they had seen both on the land and in the
sea, and the interesting lands and strange people they had visited.
But of all the places of which they told me, none captivated and
charmed my imagination so much as the Coral Islands of the Southern
Seas. They told me of thousands of beautiful fertile islands that
had been formed by a small creature called the coral insect, where
summer reigned nearly all the year round, - where the trees were
laden with a constant harvest of luxuriant fruit, - where the
climate was almost perpetually delightful, - yet where, strange to
say, men were wild, bloodthirsty savages, excepting in those
favoured isles to which the gospel of our Saviour had been
conveyed. These exciting accounts had so great an effect upon my
mind, that, when I reached the age of fifteen, I resolved to make a
voyage to the South Seas.
I had no little difficulty at first in prevailing on my dear
parents to let me go; but when I urged on my father that he would
never have become a great captain had he remained in the coasting
trade, he saw the truth of what I said, and gave his consent. My
dear mother, seeing that my father had made up his mind, no longer
offered opposition to my wishes. "But oh, Ralph," she said, on the
day I bade her adieu, "come back soon to us, my dear boy, for we
are getting old now, Ralph, and may not have many years to live."
I will not take up my reader's time with a minute account of all
that occurred before I took my final leave of my dear parents.
Suffice it to say, that my father placed me under the charge of an
old mess-mate of his own, a merchant captain, who was on the point
of sailing to the South Seas in his own ship, the Arrow. My mother
gave me her blessing and a small Bible; and her last request was,
that I would never forget to read a chapter every day, and say my
prayers; which I promised, with tears in my eyes, that I would
Soon afterwards I went on board the Arrow, which was a fine large
ship, and set sail for the islands of the Pacific Ocean.
The departure - The sea - My companions - Some account of the
wonderful sights we saw on the great deep - A dreadful storm and a
IT was a bright, beautiful, warm day when our ship spread her
canvass to the breeze, and sailed for the regions of the south.
Oh, how my heart bounded with delight as I listened to the merry
chorus of the sailors, while they hauled at the ropes and got in
the anchor! The captain shouted - the men ran to obey - the noble
ship bent over to the breeze, and the shore gradually faded from my
view, while I stood looking on with a kind of feeling that the
whole was a delightful dream.
The first thing that struck me as being different from anything I
had yet seen during my short career on the sea, was the hoisting of
the anchor on deck, and lashing it firmly down with ropes, as if we
had now bid adieu to the land for ever, and would require its
services no more.
"There, lass," cried a broad-shouldered jack-tar, giving the fluke
of the anchor a hearty slap with his hand after the housing was
completed - "there, lass, take a good nap now, for we shan't ask
you to kiss the mud again for many a long day to come!"
And so it was. That anchor did not "kiss the mud" for many long
days afterwards; and when at last it did, it was for the last time!
There were a number of boys in the ship, but two of them were my
special favourites. Jack Martin was a tall, strapping, broad-
shouldered youth of eighteen, with a handsome, good-humoured, firm
face. He had had a good education, was clever and hearty and lion-
like in his actions, but mild and quiet in disposition. Jack was a
general favourite, and had a peculiar fondness for me. My other
companion was Peterkin Gay. He was little, quick, funny, decidedly
mischievous, and about fourteen years old. But Peterkin's mischief
was almost always harmless, else he could not have been so much
beloved as he was.
"Hallo! youngster," cried Jack Martin, giving me a slap on the
shoulder, the day I joined the ship, "come below and I'll show you
your berth. You and I are to be mess-mates, and I think we shall
be good friends, for I like the look o' you."
Jack was right. He and I and Peterkin afterwards became the best
and stanchest friends that ever tossed together on the stormy
I shall say little about the first part of our voyage. We had the
usual amount of rough weather and calm; also we saw many strange
fish rolling in the sea, and I was greatly delighted one day by
seeing a shoal of flying fish dart out of the water and skim
through the air about a foot above the surface. They were pursued
by dolphins, which feed on them, and one flying-fish in its terror
flew over the ship, struck on the rigging, and fell upon the deck.
Its wings were just fins elongated, and we found that they could
never fly far at a time, and never mounted into the air like birds,
but skimmed along the surface of the sea. Jack and I had it for
dinner, and found it remarkably good.
When we approached Cape Horn, at the southern extremity of America,
the weather became very cold and stormy, and the sailors began to
tell stories about the furious gales and the dangers of that
"Cape Horn," said one, "is the most horrible headland I ever
doubled. I've sailed round it twice already, and both times the
ship was a'most blow'd out o' the water."
"An' I've been round it once," said another, "an' that time the
sails were split, and the ropes frozen in the blocks, so that they
wouldn't work, and we wos all but lost."
"An' I've been round it five times," cried a third, "an' every time
wos wuss than another, the gales wos so tree-mendous!"
"And I've been round it no times at all," cried Peterkin, with an
impudent wink of his eye, "an' THAT time I wos blow'd inside out!"
Nevertheless, we passed the dreaded cape without much rough
weather, and, in the course of a few weeks afterwards, were sailing
gently, before a warm tropical breeze, over the Pacific Ocean.
Thus we proceeded on our voyage, sometimes bounding merrily before
a fair breeze, at other times floating calmly on the glassy wave
and fishing for the curious inhabitants of the deep, - all of
which, although the sailors thought little of them, were strange,
and interesting, and very wonderful to me.
At last we came among the Coral Islands of the Pacific, and I shall
never forget the delight with which I gazed, - when we chanced to
pass one, - at the pure, white, dazzling shores, and the verdant
palm-trees, which looked bright and beautiful in the sunshine. And
often did we three long to be landed on one, imagining that we
should certainly find perfect happiness there! Our wish was
granted sooner than we expected.
One night, soon after we entered the tropics, an awful storm burst
upon our ship. The first squall of wind carried away two of our
masts; and left only the foremast standing. Even this, however,
was more than enough, for we did not dare to hoist a rag of sail on
it. For five days the tempest raged in all its fury. Everything
was swept off the decks except one small boat. The steersman was
lashed to the wheel, lest he should be washed away, and we all gave
ourselves up for lost. The captain said that he had no idea where
we were, as we had been blown far out of our course; and we feared
much that we might get among the dangerous coral reefs which are so
numerous in the Pacific. At day-break on the sixth morning of the
gale we saw land ahead. It was an island encircled by a reef of
coral on which the waves broke in fury. There was calm water
within this reef, but we could only see one narrow opening into it.
For this opening we steered, but, ere we reached it, a tremendous
wave broke on our stern, tore the rudder completely off, and left
us at the mercy of the winds and waves.
"It's all over with us now, lads," said the captain to the men;
"get the boat ready to launch; we shall be on the rocks in less
than half an hour."
The men obeyed in gloomy silence, for they felt that there was
little hope of so small a boat living in such a sea.
"Come boys," said Jack Martin, in a grave tone, to me and Peterkin,
as we stood on the quarterdeck awaiting our fate; - "Come boys, we
three shall stick together. You see it is impossible that the
little boat can reach the shore, crowded with men. It will be sure
to upset, so I mean rather to trust myself to a large oar, I see
through the telescope that the ship will strike at the tail of the
reef, where the waves break into the quiet water inside; so, if we
manage to cling to the oar till it is driven over the breakers, we
may perhaps gain the shore. What say you; will you join me?"
We gladly agreed to follow Jack, for he inspired us with
confidence, although I could perceive, by the sad tone of his
voice, that he had little hope; and, indeed, when I looked at the
white waves that lashed the reef and boiled against the rocks as if
in fury, I felt that there was but a step between us and death. My
heart sank within me; but at that moment my thoughts turned to my
beloved mother, and I remembered those words, which were among the
last that she said to me - "Ralph, my dearest child, always
remember in the hour of danger to look to your Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ. He alone is both able and willing to save your body
and your soul." So I felt much comforted when I thought thereon.
The ship was now very near the rocks. The men were ready with the
boat, and the captain beside them giving orders, when a tremendous
wave came towards us. We three ran towards the bow to lay hold of
our oar, and had barely reached it when the wave fell on the deck
with a crash like thunder. At the same moment the ship struck, the
foremast broke off close to the deck and went over the side,
carrying the boat and men along with it. Our oar got entangled
with the wreck, and Jack seized an axe to cut it free, but, owing
to the motion of the ship, he missed the cordage and struck the axe
deep into the oar. Another wave, however, washed it clear of the
wreck. We all seized hold of it, and the next instant we were
struggling in the wild sea. The last thing I saw was the boat
whirling in the surf, and all the sailors tossed into the foaming
waves. Then I became insensible.
On recovering from my swoon, I found myself lying on a bank of soft
grass, under the shelter of an overhanging rock, with Peterkin on
his knees by my side, tenderly bathing my temples with water, and
endeavouring to stop the blood that flowed from a wound in my
The Coral Island - Our first cogitations after landing, and the
result of them - We conclude that the island is uninhabited.
THERE is a strange and peculiar sensation experienced in recovering
from a state of insensibility, which is almost indescribable; a
sort of dreamy, confused consciousness; a half-waking half-sleeping
condition, accompanied with a feeling of weariness, which, however,
is by no means disagreeable. As I slowly recovered and heard the
voice of Peterkin inquiring whether I felt better, I thought that I
must have overslept myself, and should be sent to the mast-head for
being lazy; but before I could leap up in haste, the thought seemed
to vanish suddenly away, and I fancied that I must have been ill.
Then a balmy breeze fanned my cheek, and I thought of home, and the
garden at the back of my father's cottage, with its luxuriant
flowers, and the sweet-scented honey-suckle that my dear mother
trained so carefully upon the trellised porch. But the roaring of
the surf put these delightful thoughts to flight, and I was back
again at sea, watching the dolphins and the flying-fish, and
reefing topsails off the wild and stormy Cape Horn. Gradually the
roar of the surf became louder and more distinct. I thought of
being wrecked far far away from my native land, and slowly opened
my eyes to meet those of my companion Jack, who, with a look of
intense anxiety, was gazing into my face.
"Speak to us, my dear Ralph," whispered Jack, tenderly, "are you
I smiled and looked up, saying, "Better; why, what do you mean,
Jack? I'm quite well"
"Then what are you shamming for, and frightening us in this way?"
said Peterkin, smiling through his tears; for the poor boy had been
really under the impression that I was dying.
I now raised myself on my elbow, and putting my hand to my
forehead, found that it had been cut pretty severely, and that I
had lost a good deal of blood.
"Come, come, Ralph," said Jack, pressing me gently backward, "lie
down, my boy; you're not right yet. Wet your lips with this water,
it's cool and clear as crystal. I got it from a spring close at
hand. There now, don't say a word, hold your tongue," said he,
seeing me about to speak. "I'll tell you all about it, but you
must not utter a syllable till you have rested well."
"Oh! don't stop him from speaking, Jack," said Peterkin, who, now
that his fears for my safety were removed, busied himself in
erecting a shelter of broken branches in order to protect me from
the wind; which, however, was almost unnecessary, for the rock
beside which I had been laid completely broke the force of the
gale. "Let him speak, Jack; it's a comfort to hear that he's
alive, after lying there stiff and white and sulky for a whole
hour, just like an Egyptian mummy. Never saw such a fellow as you
are, Ralph; always up to mischief. You've almost knocked out all
my teeth and more than half choked me, and now you go shamming
dead! It's very wicked of you, indeed it is."
While Peterkin ran on in this style, my faculties became quite
clear again, and I began to understand my position. "What do you
mean by saying I half choked you, Peterkin?" said I.
"What do I mean? Is English not your mother tongue, or do you want
me to repeat it in French, by way of making it clearer? Don't you
remember - "
"I remember nothing," said I, interrupting him, "after we were
thrown into the sea."
"Hush, Peterkin," said Jack, "you're exciting Ralph with your
nonsense. I'll explain it to you. You recollect that after the
ship struck, we three sprang over the bow into the sea; well, I
noticed that the oar struck your head and gave you that cut on the
brow, which nearly stunned you, so that you grasped Peterkin round
the neck without knowing apparently what you were about. In doing
so you pushed the telescope, - which you clung to as if it had been
your life, - against Peterkin's mouth - "
"Pushed it against his mouth!" interrupted Peterkin, "say crammed
it down his throat. Why, there's a distinct mark of the brass rim
on the back of my gullet at this moment!"
"Well, well, be that as it may," continued Jack, "you clung to him,
Ralph, till I feared you really would choke him; but I saw that he
had a good hold of the oar, so I exerted myself to the utmost to
push you towards the shore, which we luckily reached without much
trouble, for the water inside the reef is quite calm."
"But the captain and crew, what of them?" I inquired anxiously.
Jack shook his head.
"Are they lost?"
"No, they are not lost, I hope, but I fear there is not much chance
of their being saved. The ship struck at the very tail of the
island on which we are cast. When the boat was tossed into the sea
it fortunately did not upset, although it shipped a good deal of
water, and all the men managed to scramble into it; but before they
could get the oars out the gale carried them past the point and
away to leeward of the island. After we landed I saw them
endeavouring to pull towards us, but as they had only one pair of
oars out of the eight that belong to the boat, and as the wind was
blowing right in their teeth, they gradually lost ground. Then I
saw them put about and hoist some sort of sail, - a blanket, I
fancy, for it was too small for the boat, - and in half an hour
they were out of sight."
"Poor fellows," I murmured sorrowfully.
"But the more I think about it, I've better hope of them,"
continued Jack, in a more cheerful tone. "You see, Ralph, I've
read a great deal about these South Sea Islands, and I know that in
many places they are scattered about in thousands over the sea, so
they're almost sure to fall in with one of them before long."
"I'm sure I hope so," said Peterkin, earnestly. "But what has
become of the wreck, Jack? I saw you clambering up the rocks there
while I was watching Ralph. Did you say she had gone to pieces?"
"No, she has not gone to pieces, but she has gone to the bottom,"
replied Jack. "As I said before, she struck on the tail of the
island and stove in her bow, but the next breaker swung her clear,
and she floated away to leeward. The poor fellows in the boat made
a hard struggle to reach her, but long before they came near her
she filled and went down. It was after she foundered that I saw
them trying to pull to the island."
There wan a long silence after Jack ceased speaking, and I have no
doubt that each was revolving in his mind our extraordinary
position. For my part I cannot say that my reflections were very
agreeable. I knew that we were on an island, for Jack had said so,
but whether it was inhabited or not I did not know. If it should
be inhabited, I felt certain, from all I had heard of South Sea
Islanders, that we should be roasted alive and eaten. If it should
turn out to be uninhabited, I fancied that we should be starved to
death. "Oh!" thought I, "if the ship had only stuck on the rocks
we might have done pretty well, for we could have obtained
provisions from her, and tools to enable us to build a shelter, but
now - alas! alas! we are lost!" These last words I uttered aloud
in my distress.
"Lost! Ralph?" exclaimed Jack, while a smile overspread his hearty
countenance. "Saved, you should have said. Your cogitations seem
to have taken a wrong road, and led you to a wrong conclusion."
"Do you know what conclusion I have come to?" said Peterkin. "I
have made up my mind that it's capital, - first rate, - the best
thing that ever happened to us, and the most splendid prospect that
ever lay before three jolly young tars. We've got an island all to
ourselves. We'll take possession in the name of the king; we'll go
and enter the service of its black inhabitants. Of course we'll
rise, naturally, to the top of affairs. White men always do in
savage countries. You shall be king, Jack; Ralph, prime minister,
and I shall be - "
"The court jester," interrupted Jack.
"No," retorted Peterkin, "I'll have no title at all. I shall
merely accept a highly responsible situation under government, for
you see, Jack, I'm fond of having an enormous salary and nothing to
"But suppose there are no natives?"
"Then we'll build a charming villa, and plant a lovely garden round
it, stuck all full of the most splendiferous tropical flowers, and
we'll farm the land, plant, sow, reap, eat, sleep, and be merry."
"But to be serious," said Jack, assuming a grave expression of
countenance, which I observed always had the effect of checking
Peterkin's disposition to make fun of everything, "we are really in
rather an uncomfortable position. If this is a desert island, we
shall have to live very much like the wild beasts, for we have not
a tool of any kind, not even a knife."
"Yes, we have THAT," said Peterkin, fumbling in his trousers
pocket, from which he drew forth a small penknife with only one
blade, and that was broken.
"Well, that's better than nothing; but come," said Jack, rising,
"we are wasting our time in TALKING instead of DOING. You seem
well enough to walk now, Ralph, let us see what we have got in our
pockets, and then let us climb some hill and ascertain what sort of
island we have been cast upon, for, whether good or bad, it seems
likely to be our home for some time to come."
We examine into our personal property, and make a happy discovery -
Our island described - Jack proves himself to be learned and
sagacious above his fellows - Curious discoveries - Natural
WE now seated ourselves upon a rock and began to examine into our
personal property. When we reached the shore, after being wrecked,
my companions had taken off part of their clothes and spread them
out in the sun to dry, for, although the gale was raging fiercely,
there was not a single cloud in the bright sky. They had also
stripped off most part of my wet clothes and spread them also on
the rocks. Having resumed our garments, we now searched all our
pockets with the utmost care, and laid their contents out on a flat
stone before us; and, now that our minds were fully alive to our
condition, it was with no little anxiety that we turned our several
pockets inside out, in order that nothing might escape us. When
all was collected together we found that our worldly goods
consisted of the following articles:-
First, A small penknife with a single blade broken off about the
middle and very rusty, besides having two or three notches on its
edge. (Peterkin said of this, with his usual pleasantry, that it
would do for a saw as well as a knife, which was a great
advantage.) Second, An old German-silver pencil-case without any
lead in it. Third, A piece of whip-cord about six yards long.
Fourth, A sailmaker's needle of a small size. Fifth, A ship's
telescope, which I happened to have in my hand at the time the ship
struck, and which I had clung to firmly all the time I was in the
water. Indeed it was with difficulty that Jack got it out of my
grasp when I was lying insensible on the shore. I cannot
understand why I kept such a firm hold of this telescope. They say
that a drowning man will clutch at a straw. Perhaps it may have
been some such feeling in me, for I did not know that it was in my
hand at the time we were wrecked. However, we felt some pleasure
in having it with us now, although we did not see that it could be
of much use to us, as the glass at the small end was broken to
pieces. Our sixth article was a brass ring which Jack always wore
on his little finger. I never understood why he wore it, for Jack
was not vain of his appearance, and did not seem to care for
ornaments of any kind. Peterkin said "it was in memory of the girl
he left behind him!" But as he never spoke of this girl to either
of us, I am inclined to think that Peterkin was either jesting or
mistaken. In addition to these articles we had a little bit of
tinder, and the clothes on our backs. These last were as follows:-
Each of us had on a pair of stout canvass trousers, and a pair of
sailors' thick shoes. Jack wore a red flannel shirt, a blue
jacket, and a red Kilmarnock bonnet or night-cap, besides a pair of
worsted socks, and a cotton pocket-handkerchief, with sixteen
portraits of Lord Nelson printed on it, and a union Jack in the
middle. Peterkin had on a striped flannel shirt, - which he wore
outside his trousers, and belted round his waist, after the manner
of a tunic, - and a round black straw hat. He had no jacket,
having thrown it off just before we were cast into the sea; but
this was not of much consequence, as the climate of the island
proved to be extremely mild; so much so, indeed, that Jack and I
often preferred to go about without our jackets. Peterkin had also
a pair of white cotton socks, and a blue handkerchief with white
spots all over it. My own costume consisted of a blue flannel
shirt, a blue jacket, a black cap, and a pair of worsted socks,
besides the shoes and canvass trousers already mentioned. This was
all we had, and besides these things we had nothing else; but, when
we thought of the danger from which we had escaped, and how much
worse off we might have been had the ship struck on the reef during
the night, we felt very thankful that we were possessed of so much,
although, I must confess, we sometimes wished that we had had a
While we were examining these things, and talking about them, Jack
suddenly started and exclaimed -
"The oar! we have forgotten the oar."
"What good will that do us?" said Peterkin; "there's wood enough on
the island to make a thousand oars."
"Ay, lad," replied Jack, "but there's a bit of hoop iron at the end
of it, and that may be of much use to us."
"Very true," said I, "let us go fetch it;" and with that we all
three rose and hastened down to the beach. I still felt a little
weak from loss of blood, so that my companions soon began to leave
me behind; but Jack perceived this, and, with his usual considerate
good nature, turned back to help me. This was now the first time
that I had looked well about me since landing, as the spot where I
had been laid was covered with thick bushes which almost hid the
country from our view. As we now emerged from among these and
walked down the sandy beach together, I cast my eyes about, and,
truly, my heart glowed within me and my spirits rose at the
beautiful prospect which I beheld on every side. The gale had
suddenly died away, just as if it had blown furiously till it
dashed our ship upon the rocks, and had nothing more to do after
accomplishing that. The island on which we stood was hilly, and
covered almost everywhere with the most beautiful and richly
coloured trees, bushes, and shrubs, none of which I knew the names
of at that time, except, indeed, the cocoa-nut palms, which I
recognised at once from the many pictures that I had seen of them
before I left home. A sandy beach of dazzling whiteness lined this
bright green shore, and upon it there fell a gentle ripple of the
sea. This last astonished me much, for I recollected that at home
the sea used to fall in huge billows on the shore long after a
storm had subsided. But on casting my glance out to sea the cause
became apparent. About a mile distant from the shore I saw the
great billows of the ocean rolling like a green wall, and falling
with a long, loud roar, upon a low coral reef, where they were
dashed into white foam and flung up in clouds of spray. This spray
sometimes flew exceedingly high, and, every here and there, a
beautiful rainbow was formed for a moment among the falling drops.
We afterwards found that this coral reef extended quite round the
island, and formed a natural breakwater to it. Beyond this the sea
rose and tossed violently from the effects of the storm; but
between the reef and the shore it was as calm and as smooth as a
My heart was filled with more delight than I can express at sight
of so many glorious objects, and my thoughts turned suddenly to the
contemplation of the Creator of them all. I mention this the more
gladly, because at that time, I am ashamed to say, I very seldom
thought of my Creator, although I was constantly surrounded by the
most beautiful and wonderful of His works. I observed from the
expression of my companion's countenance that he too derived much
joy from the splendid scenery, which was all the more agreeable to
us after our long voyage on the salt sea. There, the breeze was
fresh and cold, but here it was delightfully mild; and, when a puff
blew off the land, it came laden with the most exquisite perfume
that can be imagined. While we thus gazed, we were startled by a
loud "Huzza!" from Peterkin, and, on looking towards the edge of
the sea, we saw him capering and jumping about like a monkey, and
ever and anon tugging with all his might at something that lay upon
"What an odd fellow he is, to be sure," said Jack, taking me by the
arm and hurrying forward; "come, let us hasten to see what it is."
"Here it is, boys, hurrah! come along. Just what we want," cried
Peterkin, as we drew near, still tugging with all his power.
"First rate; just the very ticket!"
I need scarcely say to my readers that my companion Peterkin was in
the habit of using very remarkable and peculiar phrases. And I am
free to confess that I did not well understand the meaning of some
of them, - such, for instance, as "the very ticket;" but I think it
my duty to recount everything relating to my adventures with a
strict regard to truthfulness in as far as my memory serves me; so
I write, as nearly as possible, the exact words that my companions
spoke. I often asked Peterkin to explain what he meant by
"ticket," but he always answered me by going into fits of laughter.
However, by observing the occasions on which he used it, I came to
understand that it meant to show that something was remarkably
good, or fortunate.
On coming up we found that Peterkin was vainly endeavouring to pull
the axe out of the oar, into which, it will be remembered, Jack
struck it while endeavouring to cut away the cordage among which it
had become entangled at the bow of the ship. Fortunately for us
the axe had remained fast in the oar, and even now, all Peterkin's
strength could not draw it out of the cut.
"Ah! that is capital indeed," cried Jack, at the same time giving
the axe a wrench that plucked it out of the tough wood. "How
fortunate this is! It will be of more value to us than a hundred
knives, and the edge is quite new and sharp."
"I'll answer for the toughness of the handle at any rate," cried
Peterkin; "my arms are nearly pulled out of the sockets. But see
here, our luck is great. There is iron on the blade." He pointed
to a piece of hoop iron, as he spoke, which had been nailed round
the blade of the oar to prevent it from splitting.
This also was a fortunate discovery. Jack went down on his knees,
and with the edge of the axe began carefully to force out the
nails. But as they were firmly fixed in, and the operation blunted
our axe, we carried the oar up with us to the place where we had
left the rest of our things, intending to burn the wood away from
the iron at a more convenient time.
"Now, lads," said Jack, after we had laid it on the stone which
contained our little all, "I propose that we should go to the tail
of the island, where the ship struck, which is only a quarter of a
mile off, and see if anything else has been thrown ashore. I don't
expect anything, but it is well to see. When we get back here it
will be time to have our supper and prepare our beds."
"Agreed!" cried Peterkin and I together, as, indeed, we would have
agreed to any proposal that Jack made; for, besides his being older
and much stronger and taller than either of us, he was a very
clever fellow, and I think would have induced people much older
than himself to choose him for their leader, especially if they
required to be led on a bold enterprise.
Now, as we hastened along the white beach, which shone so brightly
in the rays of the setting sun that our eyes were quite dazzled by
its glare, it suddenly came into Peterkin's head that we had
nothing to eat except the wild berries which grew in profusion at
"What shall we do, Jack?" said he, with a rueful look; "perhaps
they may be poisonous!"
"No fear," replied Jack, confidently; "I have observed that a few
of them are not unlike some of the berries that grow wild on our
own native hills. Besides, I saw one or two strange birds eating
them just a few minutes ago, and what won't kill the birds won't
kill us. But look up there, Peterkin," continued Jack, pointing to
the branched head of a cocoa-nut palm. "There are nuts for us in
"So there are!" cried Peterkin, who being of a very unobservant
nature had been too much taken up with other things to notice
anything so high above his head as the fruit of a palm tree. But,
whatever faults my young comrade had, he could not be blamed for
want of activity or animal spirits. Indeed, the nuts had scarcely
been pointed out to him when he bounded up the tall stem of the
tree like a squirrel, and, in a few minutes, returned with three
nuts, each as large as a man's fist.
"You had better keep them till we return," raid Jack. "Let us
finish our work before eating."
"So be it, captain, go ahead," cried Peterkin, thrusting the nuts
into his trousers pocket. "In fact I don't want to eat just now,
but I would give a good deal for a drink. Oh that I could find a
spring! but I don't see the smallest sign of one hereabouts. I
say, Jack, how does it happen that you seem to be up to everything?
You have told us the names of half-a-dozen trees already, and yet
you say that you were never in the South Seas before."
"I'm not up to EVERYTHING, Peterkin, as you'll find out ere long,"
replied Jack, with a smile; "but I have been a great reader of
books of travel and adventure all my life, and that has put me up
to a good many things that you are, perhaps, not acquainted with."
"Oh, Jack, that's all humbug. If you begin to lay everything to
the credit of books, I'll quite lose my opinion of you," cried
Peterkin, with a look of contempt. "I've seen a lot o' fellows
that were ALWAYS poring over books, and when they came to try to DO
anything, they were no better than baboons!"
"You are quite right," retorted Jack; "and I have seen a lot of
fellows who never looked into books at all, who knew nothing about
anything except the things they had actually seen, and very little
they knew even about these. Indeed, some were so ignorant that
they did not know that cocoa-nuts grew on cocoa-nut trees!"
I could not refrain from laughing at this rebuke, for there was
much truth in it, as to Peterkin's ignorance.
"Humph! maybe you're right," answered Peterkin; "but I would not
give TUPPENCE for a man of books, if he had nothing else in him."
"Neither would I," said Jack; "but that's no reason why you should
run books down, or think less of me for having read them. Suppose,
now, Peterkin, that you wanted to build a ship, and I were to give
you a long and particular account of the way to do it, would not
that be very useful?"
"No doubt of it," said Peterkin, laughing.
"And suppose I were to write the account in a letter instead of
telling you in words, would that be less useful?"
"Well - no, perhaps not."
"Well, suppose I were to print it, and send it to you in the form
of a book, would it not be as good and useful as ever?"
"Oh, bother! Jack, you're a philosopher, and that's worse than
anything!" cried Peterkin, with a look of pretended horror.
"Very well, Peterkin, we shall see," returned Jack, halting under
the shade of a cocoa-nut tree. "You said you were thirsty just a
minute ago; now, jump up that tree and bring down a nut, - not a
ripe one, bring a green, unripe one."
Peterkin looked surprised, but, seeing that Jack was in earnest, he
"Now, cut a hole in it with your penknife, and clap it to your
mouth, old fellow," said Jack.
Peterkin did as he was directed, and we both burst into
uncontrollable laughter at the changes that instantly passed over
his expressive countenance. No sooner had he put the nut to his
mouth, and thrown back his head in order to catch what came out of
it, than his eyes opened to twice their ordinary size with
astonishment, while his throat moved vigorously in the act of
swallowing. Then a smile and look of intense delight overspread
his face, except, indeed, the mouth, which, being firmly fixed to
the hole in the nut, could not take part in the expression; but he
endeavoured to make up for this by winking at us excessively with
his right eye. At length he stopped, and, drawing a long breath,
"Nectar! perfect nectar! I say, Jack, you're a Briton - the best
fellow I ever met in my life. Only taste that!" said he, turning
to me and holding the nut to my mouth. I immediately drank, and
certainly I was much surprised at the delightful liquid that flowed
copiously down my throat. It was extremely cool, and had a sweet
taste, mingled with acid; in fact, it was the likest thing to
lemonade I ever tasted, and was most grateful and refreshing. I
handed the nut to Jack, who, after tasting it, said, "Now,
Peterkin, you unbeliever, I never saw or tasted a cocoa nut in my
life before, except those sold in shops at home; but I once read
that the green nuts contain that stuff, and you see it is true!"
"And pray," asked Peterkin, "what sort of 'stuff' does the ripe nut
"A hollow kernel," answered Jack, "with a liquid like milk in it;
but it does not satisfy thirst so well as hunger. It is very
wholesome food I believe."
"Meat and drink on the same tree!" cried Peterkin; "washing in the
sea, lodging on the ground, - and all for nothing! My dear boys,
we're set up for life; it must be the ancient Paradise, - hurrah!"
and Peterkin tossed his straw hat in the air, and ran along the
beach hallooing like a madman with delight.
We afterwards found, however, that these lovely islands were very
unlike Paradise in many things. But more of this in its proper
We had now come to the point of rocks on which the ship had struck,
but did not find a single article, although we searched carefully
among the coral rocks, which at this place jutted out so far as
nearly to join the reef that encircled the island. Just as we were
about to return, however, we saw something black floating in a
little cove that had escaped our observation. Running forward, we
drew it from the water, and found it to be a long thick leather
boot, such as fishermen at home wear; and a few paces farther on we
picked up its fellow. We at once recognised these as having
belonged to our captain, for he had worn them during the whole of
the storm, in order to guard his legs from the waves and spray that
constantly washed over our decks. My first thought on seeing them
was that our dear captain had been drowned; but Jack soon put my
mind more at rest on that point, by saying that if the captain had
been drowned with the boots on, he would certainly have been washed
ashore along with them, and that he had no doubt whatever he had
kicked them off while in the sea, that he might swim more easily.
Peterkin immediately put them on, but they were so large that, as
Jack said, they would have done for boots, trousers, and vest too.
I also tried them, but, although I was long enough in the legs for
them, they were much too large in the feet for me; so we handed
them to Jack, who was anxious to make me keep them, but as they
fitted his large limbs and feet as if they had been made for him, I
would not hear of it, so he consented at last to use them. I may
remark, however, that Jack did not use them often, as they were
It was beginning to grow dark when we returned to our encampment;
so we put off our visit to the top of a hill till next day, and
employed the light that yet remained to us in cutting down a
quantity of boughs and the broad leaves of a tree, of which none of
us knew the name. With these we erected a sort of rustic bower, in
which we meant to pass the night. There was no absolute necessity
for this, because the air of our island was so genial and balmy
that we could have slept quite well without any shelter; but we
were so little used to sleeping in the open air, that we did not
quite relish the idea of lying down without any covering over us:
besides, our bower would shelter us from the night dews or rain, if
any should happen to fall. Having strewed the floor with leaves
and dry grass, we bethought ourselves of supper.
But it now occurred to us, for the first time, that we had no means
of making a fire.
"Now, there's a fix! - what shall we do?" said Peterkin, while we
both turned our eyes to Jack, to whom we always looked in our
difficulties. Jack seemed not a little perplexed.
"There are flints enough, no doubt, on the beach," said he, "but
they are of no use at all without a steel. However, we must try."
So saying, he went to the beach, and soon returned with two flints.
On one of these he placed the tinder, and endeavoured to ignite it;
but it was with great difficulty that a very small spark was struck
out of the flints, and the tinder, being a bad, hard piece, would
not catch. He then tried the bit of hoop iron, which would not
strike fire at all; and after that the back of the axe, with no
better success. During all these trials Peterkin sat with his
hands in his pockets, gazing with a most melancholy visage at our
comrade, his face growing longer and more miserable at each
"Oh dear!" he sighed, "I would not care a button for the cooking of
our victuals, - perhaps they don't need it, - but it's so dismal to
eat one's supper in the dark, and we have had such a capital day,
that it's a pity to finish off in this glum style. Oh, I have it!"
he cried, starting up; "the spy-glass, - the big glass at the end
is a burning-glass!"
"You forget that we have no sun," said I.
Peterkin was silent. In his sudden recollection of the telescope
he had quite overlooked the absence of the sun.
"Ah, boys, I've got it now!" exclaimed Jack, rising and cutting a
branch from a neighbouring bush, which be stripped of its leaves.
"I recollect seeing this done once at home. Hand me the bit of
whip-cord." With the cord and branch Jack soon formed a bow. Then
he cut a piece, about three inches long, off the end of a dead
branch, which he pointed at the two ends. Round this he passed the
cord of the bow, and placed one end against his chest, which was
protected from its point by a chip of wood; the other point he
placed against the bit of tinder, and then began to saw vigorously
with the bow, just as a blacksmith does with his drill while boring
a hole in a piece of iron. In a few seconds the tinder began to
smoke; in less than a minute it caught fire; and in less than a
quarter of an hour we were drinking our lemonade and eating cocoa
nuts round a fire that would have roasted an entire sheep, while
the smoke, flames, and sparks, flew up among the broad leaves of
the overhanging palm trees, and cast a warm glow upon our leafy
That night the starry sky looked down through the gently rustling
trees upon our slumbers, and the distant roaring of the surf upon
the coral reef was our lullaby.
Morning, and cogitations connected therewith - We luxuriate in the
sea, try our diving powers, and make enchanting excursions among
the coral groves at the bottom of the ocean - The wonders of the
deep enlarged upon.
WHAT a joyful thing it is to awaken, on a fresh glorious morning,
and find the rising sun staring into your face with dazzling
brilliancy! - to see the birds twittering in the bushes, and to
hear the murmuring of a rill, or the soft hissing ripples as they
fall upon the sea-shore! At any time and in any place such sights
and sounds are most charming, but more especially are they so when
one awakens to them, for the fist time, in a novel and romantic
situation, with the soft sweet air of a tropical climate mingling
with the fresh smell of the sea, and stirring the strange leaves
that flutter overhead and around one, or ruffling the plumage of
the stranger birds that fly inquiringly around, as if to demand
what business we have to intrude uninvited on their domains. When
I awoke on the morning after the shipwreck, I found myself in this
most delightful condition; and, as I lay on my back upon my bed of
leaves, gazing up through the branches of the cocoa-nut trees into
the clear blue sky, and watched the few fleecy clouds that passed
slowly across it, my heart expanded more and more with an exulting
gladness, the like of which I had never felt before. While I
meditated, my thoughts again turned to the great and kind Creator
of this beautiful world, as they had done on the previous day, when
I first beheld the sea and the coral reef, with the mighty waves
dashing over it into the calm waters of the lagoon.
While thus meditating, I naturally bethought me of my Bible, for I
had faithfully kept the promise, which I gave at parting to my
beloved mother, that I would read it every morning; and it was with
a feeling of dismay that I remembered I had left it in the ship. I
was much troubled about this. However, I consoled myself with
reflecting that I could keep the second part of my promise to her,
namely, that I should never omit to say my prayers. So I rose
quietly, lest I should disturb my companions, who were still
asleep, and stepped aside into the bushes for this purpose.
On my return I found them still slumbering, so I again lay down to
think over our situation. Just at that moment I was attracted by
the sight of a very small parrot, which Jack afterwards told me was
called a paroquet. It was seated on a twig that overhung
Peterkin's head, and I was speedily lost in admiration of its
bright green plumage, which was mingled with other gay colours.
While I looked I observed that the bird turned its head slowly from
side to side and looked downwards, fist with the one eye, and then
with the other. On glancing downwards I observed that Peterkin's
mouth was wide open, and that this remarkable bird was looking into
it. Peterkin used to say that I had not an atom of fun in my
composition, and that I never could understand a joke. In regard
to the latter, perhaps he was right; yet I think that, when they
were explained to me, I understood jokes as well as most people:
but in regard to the former he must certainly have been wrong, for
this bird seemed to me to be extremely funny; and I could not help
thinking that, if it should happen to faint, or slip its foot, and
fall off the twig into Peterkin's mouth, he would perhaps think it
funny too! Suddenly the paroquet bent down its head and uttered a
loud scream in his face. This awoke him, and, with a cry of
surprise, he started up, while the foolish bird flew precipitately
"Oh you monster!" cried Peterkin, shaking his fist at the bird.
Then he yawned and rubbed his eyes, and asked what o'clock it was.
I smiled at this question, and answered that, as our watches were
at the bottom of the sea, I could not tell, but it was a little
Peterkin now began to remember where we were. As he looked up into
the bright sky, and snuffed the scented air, his eyes glistened
with delight, and he uttered a faint "hurrah!" and yawned again.
Then he gazed slowly round, till, observing the calm sea through an
opening in the bushes, he started suddenly up as if he had received
an electric shock, uttered a vehement shout, flung off his
garments, and, rushing over the white sands, plunged into the
water. The cry awoke Jack, who rose on his elbow with a look of
grave surprise; but this was followed by a quiet smile of
intelligence on seeing Peterkin in the water. With an energy that
he only gave way to in moments of excitement, Jack bounded to his
feet, threw off his clothes, shook back his hair, and with a lion-
like spring, dashed over the sands and plunged into the sea with
such force as quite to envelop Peterkin in a shower of spray. Jack
was a remarkably good swimmer and diver, so that after his plunge
we saw no sign of him for nearly a minute; after which he suddenly
emerged, with a cry of joy, a good many yards out from the shore.
My spirits were so much raised by seeing all this that I, too,
hastily threw off my garments and endeavoured to imitate Jack's
vigorous bound; but I was so awkward that my foot caught on a
stump, and I fell to the ground; then I slipped on a stone while
running over the mud, and nearly fell again, much to the amusement
of Peterkin, who laughed heartily, and called me a "slow coach,"
while Jack cried out, "Come along, Ralph, and I'll help you."
However, when I got into the water I managed very well, for I was
really a good swimmer, and diver too. I could not, indeed, equal
Jack, who was superior to any Englishman I ever saw, but I
infinitely surpassed Peterkin, who could only swim a little, and
could not dive at all.
While Peterkin enjoyed himself in the shallow water and in running
along the beach, Jack and I swam out into the deep water, and
occasionally dived for stones. I shall never forget my surprise
and delight on first beholding the bottom of the sea. As I have
before stated, the water within the reef was as calm as a pond;
and, as there was no wind, it was quite clear, from the surface to
the bottom, so that we could see down easily even at a depth of
twenty or thirty yards. When Jack and I dived in shallower water,
we expected to have found sand and stones, instead of which we
found ourselves in what appeared really to be an enchanted garden.
The whole of the bottom of the lagoon, as we called the calm water
within the reef, was covered with coral of every shape, size, and
hue. Some portions were formed like large mushrooms; others
appeared like the brain of a man, having stalks or necks attached
to them; but the most common kind was a species of branching coral,
and some portions were of a lovely pale pink colour, others pure
white. Among this there grew large quantities of sea-weed of the
richest hues imaginable, and of the most graceful forms; while
innumerable fishes - blue, red, yellow, green, and striped -
sported in and out amongst the flower-beds of this submarine
garden, and did not appear to be at all afraid of our approaching
On darting to the surface for breath, after our first dive, Jack
and I rose close to each other.
"Did you ever in your life, Ralph, see anything so lovely?" said
Jack, as he flung the spray from his hair.
"Never," I replied. "It appears to me like fairy realms. I can
scarcely believe that we are not dreaming."
"Dreaming!" cried Jack, "do you know, Ralph, I'm half tempted to
think that we really are dreaming. But if so, I am resolved to
make the most of it, and dream another dive; so here goes, - down
again, my boy!"
We took the second dive together, and kept beside each other while
under water; and I was greatly surprised to find that we could keep
down much longer than I ever recollect having done in our own seas
at home. I believe that this was owing to the heat of the water,
which was so warm that we afterwards found we could remain in it
for two and three hours at a time without feeling any unpleasant
effects such as we used to experience in the sea at home. When
Jack reached the bottom, he grasped the coral stems, and crept
along on his hands and knees, peeping under the sea-weed and among
the rocks. I observed him also pick up one or two large oysters,
and retain them in his grasp, as if he meant to take them up with
him, so I also gathered a few. Suddenly he made a grasp at a fish
with blue and yellow stripes on its back, and actually touched its
tail, but did not catch it. At this he turned towards me and
attempted to smile; but no sooner had he done so than he sprang
like an arrow to the surface, where, on following him, I found him
gasping and coughing, and spitting water from his mouth. In a few
minutes he recovered, and we both turned to swim ashore.
"I declare, Ralph," said he, "that I actually tried to laugh under
"So I saw," I replied; "and I observed that you very nearly caught
that fish by the tail. It would have done capitally for breakfast
if you had."
"Breakfast enough here," said he, holding up the oysters, as we
landed and ran up the beach. "Hallo! Peterkin, here you are, boy.
Split open these fellows while Ralph and I put on our clothes.
They'll agree with the cocoa nuts excellently, I have no doubt."
Peterkin, who was already dressed, took the oysters, and opened
them with the edge of our axe, exclaiming, "Now, that IS capital.
There's nothing I'm so fond of."
"Ah! that's lucky," remarked Jack. "I'll be able to keep you in
good order now, Master Peterkin. You know you can't dive any
better than a cat. So, sir, whenever you behave ill, you shall
have no oysters for breakfast."
"I'm very glad that our prospect of breakfast is so good," said I,
"for I'm very hungry."
"Here, then, stop your mouth with that, Ralph," said Peterkin,
holding a large oyster to my lips. I opened my mouth and swallowed
it in silence, and really it was remarkably good.
We now set ourselves earnestly about our preparations for spending
the day. We had no difficulty with the fire this morning, as our
burning-glass was an admirable one; and while we roasted a few
oysters and ate our cocoa nuts, we held a long, animated
conversation about our plans for the future. What those plans
were, and how we carried them into effect, the reader shall see
An excursion into the interior, in which we make many valuable and
interesting discoveries - We get a dreadful fright - The bread-
fruit tree - Wonderful peculiarity of some of the fruit trees -
Signs of former inhabitants.
OUR first care, after breakfast, was to place the few articles we
possessed in the crevice of a rock at the farther end of a small
cave which we discovered near our encampment. This cave, we hoped,
might be useful to us afterwards as a store-house. Then we cut two
large clubs off a species of very hard tree which grew near at
hand. One of these was given to Peterkin, the other to me, and
Jack armed himself with the axe. We took these precautions because
we purposed to make an excursion to the top of the mountains of the
interior, in order to obtain a better view of our island. Of
course we knew not what dangers might befall us by the way, so
thought it best to be prepared.
Having completed our arrangements and carefully extinguished our
fire, we sallied forth and walked a short distance along the sea-
beach, till we came to the entrance of a valley, through which
flowed the rivulet before mentioned. Here we turned our backs on
the sea and struck into the interior.
The prospect that burst upon our view on entering the valley was
truly splendid. On either side of us there was a gentle rise in
the land, which thus formed two ridges about a mile apart on each
side of the valley. These ridges, - which, as well as the low
grounds between them, were covered with trees and shrubs of the
most luxuriant kind - continued to recede inland for about two
miles, when they joined the foot of a small mountain. This hill
rose rather abruptly from the head of the valley, and was likewise
entirely covered even to the top with trees, except on one
particular spot near the left shoulder, where was a bare and rocky
place of a broken and savage character. Beyond this hill we could
not see, and we therefore directed our course up the banks of the
rivulet towards the foot of it, intending to climb to the top,
should that be possible, as, indeed, we had no doubt it was.
Jack, being the wisest and boldest among us, took the lead,
carrying the axe on his shoulder. Peterkin, with his enormous
club, came second, as he said he should like to be in a position to
defend me if any danger should threaten. I brought up the rear,
but, having been more taken up with the wonderful and curious
things I saw at starting than with thoughts of possible danger, I
had very foolishly left my club behind me. Although, as I have
said the trees and bushes were very luxuriant, they were not so
thickly crowded together as to hinder our progress among them. We
were able to wind in and out, and to follow the banks of the stream
quite easily, although, it is true, the height and thickness of the
foliage prevented us from seeing far ahead. But sometimes a
jutting-out rock on the hill sides afforded us a position whence we
could enjoy the romantic view and mark our progress towards the
foot of the hill. I wag particularly struck, during the walk, with
the richness of the undergrowth in most places, and recognised many
berries and plants that resembled those of my native land,
especially a tall, elegantly-formed fern, which emitted an
agreeable perfume. There were several kinds of flowers, too, but I
did not see so many of these as I should have expected in such a
climate. We also saw a great variety of small birds of bright
plumage, and many paroquets similar to the one that awoke Peterkin
so rudely in the morning.
Thus we advanced to the foot of the hill without encountering
anything to alarm us, except, indeed, once, when we were passing
close under a part of the hill which was hidden from our view by
the broad leaves of the banana trees, which grew in great
luxuriance in that part. Jack was just preparing to force his way
through this thicket, when we were startled and arrested by a
strange pattering or rumbling sound, which appeared to us quite
different from any of the sounds we had heard during the previous
part of our walk.
"Hallo!" cried Peterkin, stopping short and grasping his club with
both hands, "what's that?"
Neither of us replied; but Jack seized his axe in his right hand,
while with the other he pushed aside the broad leaves and
endeavoured to peer amongst them.
"I can see nothing," he said, after a short pause.
"I think it - "
Again the rumbling sound came, louder than before, and we all
sprang back and stood on the defensive. For myself, having
forgotten my club, and not having taken the precaution to cut
another, I buttoned my jacket, doubled my fists, and threw myself
into a boxing attitude. I must say, however, that I felt somewhat
uneasy; and my companions afterwards confessed that their thoughts
at this moment had been instantly filled with all they had ever
heard or read of wild beasts and savages, torturings at the stake,
roastings alive, and such like horrible things. Suddenly the
pattering noise increased with tenfold violence. It was followed
by a fearful crash among the bushes, which was rapidly repeated, as
if some gigantic animal were bounding towards us. In another
moment an enormous rock came crashing through the shrubbery,
followed by a cloud of dust and small stones, flew close past the
spot where we stood, carrying bushes and young trees along with it.
"Pooh! is that all?" exclaimed Peterkin, wiping the perspiration
off his forehead. "Why, I thought it was all the wild men and
beasts in the South Sea Islands galloping on in one grand charge to
sweep us off the face of the earth, instead of a mere stone
tumbling down the mountain side."
"Nevertheless," remarked Jack, "if that same stone had hit any of
us, it would have rendered the charge you speak of quite
This was true, and I felt very thankful for our escape. On
examining the spot more narrowly, we found that it lay close to the
foot of a very rugged precipice, from which stones of various sizes
were always tumbling at intervals. Indeed, the numerous fragments
lying scattered all around might have suggested the cause of the
sound, had we not been too suddenly alarmed to think of anything.
We now resumed our journey, resolving that, in our future
excursions into the interior, we would be careful to avoid this
Soon afterwards we arrived at the foot of the hill and prepared to
ascend it. Here Jack made a discovery which caused us all very
great joy. This was a tree of a remarkably beautiful appearance,
which Jack confidently declared to be the celebrated bread-fruit
"Is it celebrated?" inquired Peterkin, with a look of great
"It is," replied Jack
"That's odd, now," rejoined Peterkin; "never heard of it before."
"Then it's not so celebrated as I thought it was," returned Jack,
quietly squeezing Peterkin's hat over his eyes; "but listen, you
ignorant boobie! and hear of it now."
Peterkin re-adjusted his hat, and was soon listening with as much
interest as myself, while Jack told us that this tree is one of the
most valuable in the islands of the south; that it bears two,
sometimes three, crops of fruit in the year; that the fruit is very
like wheaten bread in appearance, and that it constitutes the
principal food of many of the islanders.
"So," said Peterkin, "we seem to have everything ready prepared to
our hands in this wonderful island, - lemonade ready bottled in
nuts, and loaf-bread growing on the trees!"
Peterkin, as usual, was jesting; nevertheless, it is a curious fact
that he spoke almost the literal truth. "Moreover," continued
Jack, "the bread-fruit tree affords a capital gum, which serves the
natives for pitching their canoes; the bark of the young branches
is made by them into cloth; and of the wood, which is durable and
of a good colour, they build their houses. So you see, lads, that
we have no lack of material here to make us comfortable, if we are
only clever enough to use it."
"But are you sure that that's it?" asked Peterkin.
"Quite sure," replied Jack; "for I was particularly interested in
the account I once read of it, and I remember the description well.
I am sorry, however, that I have forgotten the descriptions of many
other trees which I am sure we have seen to-day, if we could but
recognise them. So you see, Peterkin, I'm not up to everything
"Never mind, Jack," said Peterkin, with a grave, patronizing
expression of countenance, patting his tall companion on the
shoulder, - "never mind, Jack; you know a good deal for your age.
You're a clever boy, sir, - a promising young man; and if you only
go on as you have begun, sir, you will - "
The end of this speech was suddenly cut short by Jack tripping up
Peterkin's heels and tumbling him into a mass of thick shrubs,
where, finding himself comfortable, he lay still basking in the
sunshine, while Jack and I examined the bread-tree.
We were much struck with the deep, rich green colour of its broad
leaves, which were twelve or eighteen inches long, deeply indented,
and of a glossy smoothness, like the laurel. The fruit, with which
it was loaded, was nearly round, and appeared to be about six
inches in diameter, with a rough rind, marked with lozenge-shaped
divisions. It was of various colours, from light pea-green to
brown and rich yellow. Jack said that the yellow was the ripe
fruit. We afterwards found that most of the fruit-trees on the
island were evergreens, and that we might, when we wished, pluck
the blossom and the ripe fruit from the same tree. Such a
wonderful difference from the trees of our own country surprised us
not a little. The bark of the tree was rough and light-coloured;
the trunk was about two feet in diameter, and it appeared to be
twenty feet high, being quite destitute of branches up to that
height, where it branched off into a beautiful and umbrageous head.
We noticed that the fruit hung in clusters of twos and threes on
the branches; but as we were anxious to get to the top of the hill,
we refrained from attempting to pluck any at that time.
Our hearts were now very much cheered by our good fortune, and it
was with light and active steps that we clambered up the steep
sides of the hill. On reaching the summit, a new, and if possible
a grander, prospect met our gaze. We found that this was not the
highest part of the island, but that another hill lay beyond, with
a wide valley between it and the one on which we stood. This
valley, like the first, was also full of rich trees, some dark and
some light green, some heavy and thick in foliage, and others
light, feathery, and graceful, while the beautiful blossoms on many
of them threw a sort of rainbow tint over all, and gave to the
valley the appearance of a garden of flowers. Among these we
recognised many of the bread-fruit trees, laden with yellow fruit,
and also a great many cocoa-nut palms. After gazing our fill we
pushed down the hill side, crossed the valley, and soon began to
ascend the second mountain. It was clothed with trees nearly to
the top, but the summit was bare, and in some places broken.
While on our way up we came to an object which filled us with much
interest. This was the stump of a tree that had evidently been cut
down with an axe! So, then, we were not the first who had viewed
this beautiful isle. The hand of man had been at work there before
us. It now began to recur to us again that perhaps the island was
inhabited, although we had not seen any traces of man until now;
but a second glance at the stump convinced us that we had not more
reason to think so now than formerly; for the surface of the wood
was quite decayed, and partly covered with fungus and green matter,
so that it must have been cut many years ago.
"Perhaps," said Peterkin, "some ship or other has touched here long
ago for wood, and only taken one tree."
We did not think this likely, however, because, in such
circumstances, the crew of a ship would cut wood of small size, and
near the shore, whereas this was a large tree and stood near the
top of the mountain. In fact it was the highest large tree on the
mountain, all above it being wood of very recent growth.
"I can't understand it," said Jack, scratching the surface of the
stump with his axe. "I can only suppose that the savages have been
here and cut it for some purpose known only to themselves. But,
hallo! what have we here?"
As he spoke, Jack began carefully to scrape away the moss and
fungus from the stump, and soon laid bare three distinct traces of
marks, as if some inscription or initials had been cut thereon.
But although the traces were distinct, beyond all doubt, the exact
form of the letters could not be made out. Jack thought they
looked like J. S. but we could not be certain. They had apparently
been carelessly cut, and long exposure to the weather had so broken
them up that we could not make out what they were. We were
exceedingly perplexed at this discovery, and stayed a long time at
the place conjecturing what these marks could have been, but
without avail; so, as the day was advancing, we left it and quickly
reached the top of the mountain.
We found this to be the highest point of the island, and from it we
saw our kingdom lying, as it were, like a map around us. As I have
always thought it impossible to get a thing properly into one's
understanding without comprehending it, I shall beg the reader's
patience for a little while I describe our island, thus, shortly:-
It consisted of two mountains; the one we guessed at 500 feet; the
other, on which we stood, at 1000. Between these lay a rich,
beautiful valley, as already said. This valley crossed the island
from one end to the other, being high in the middle and sloping on
each side towards the sea. The large mountain sloped, on the side
farthest from where we had been wrecked, gradually towards the sea;
but although, when viewed at a glance, it had thus a regular
sloping appearance, a more careful observation showed that it was
broken up into a multitude of very small vales, or rather dells and
glens, intermingled with little rugged spots and small but abrupt
precipices here and there, with rivulets tumbling over their edges
and wandering down the slopes in little white streams, sometimes
glistening among the broad leaves of the bread-fruit and cocoa-nut
trees, or hid altogether beneath the rich underwood. At the base
of this mountain lay a narrow bright green plain or meadow, which
terminated abruptly at the shore. On the other side of the island,
whence we had come, stood the smaller hill, at the foot of which
diverged three valleys; one being that which we had ascended, with
a smaller vale on each side of it, and separated from it by the two
ridges before mentioned. In these smaller valleys there were no
streams, but they were clothed with the same luxuriant vegetation.
The diameter of the island seemed to be about ten miles, and, as it
was almost circular in form, its circumference must have been
thirty miles; - perhaps a little more, if allowance be made for the
numerous bays and indentations of the shore. The entire island was
belted by a beach of pure white sand, on which laved the gentle
ripples of the lagoon. We now also observed that the coral reef
completely encircled the island; but it varied its distance from it
here and there, in some places being a mile from the beach, in
others, a few hundred yards, but the average distance was half a
mile. The reef lay very low, and the spray of the surf broke quite
over it in many places. This surf never ceased its roar, for,
however calm the weather might be, there is always a gentle swaying
motion in the great Pacific, which, although scarce noticeable out
at sea, reaches the shore at last in a huge billow. The water
within the lagoon, as before said, was perfectly still. There were
three narrow openings in the reef; one opposite each end of the
valley which I have described as crossing the island; the other
opposite our own valley, which we afterwards named the Valley of
the Wreck. At each of these openings the reef rose into two small
green islets, covered with bushes and having one or two cocoa-nut
palms on each. These islets were very singular, and appeared as if
planted expressly for the purpose of marking the channel into the
lagoon. Our captain was making for one of these openings the day
we were wrecked, and would have reached it too, I doubt not, had
not the rudder been torn away. Within the lagoon were several
pretty, low coral islands, just opposite our encampment; and,
immediately beyond these, out at sea, lay about a dozen other
islands, at various distances, from half a mile to ten miles; all
of them, as far as we could discern, smaller than ours and
apparently uninhabited. They seemed to be low coral islands,
raised but little above the sea, yet covered with cocoa-nut trees.
All this we noted, and a great deal more, while we sat on the top
of the mountain. After we had satisfied ourselves we prepared to
return; but here again we discovered traces of the presence of man.
These were a pole or staff and one or two pieces of wood which had
been squared with an axe. All of these were, however, very much
decayed, and they had evidently not been touched for many years.
Full of these discoveries we returned to our encampment. On the
way we fell in with the traces of some four-footed animal, but
whether old or of recent date none of us were able to guess. This
also tended to raise our hopes of obtaining some animal food on the
island, so we reached home in good spirits, quite prepared for
supper, and highly satisfied with our excursion.
After much discussion, in which Peterkin took the lead, we came to
the conclusion that the island was uninhabited, and went to bed.
Jack's ingenuity - We get into difficulties about fishing, and get
out of them by a method which gives us a cold bath - Horrible
encounter with a shark.
FOR several days after the excursion related in the last chapter we
did not wander far from our encampment, but gave ourselves up to
forming plans for the future and making our present abode
There were various causes that induced this state of comparative
inaction. In the first place, although everything around us was so
delightful, and we could without difficulty obtain all that we
required for our bodily comfort, we did not quite like the idea of
settling down here for the rest of our lives, far away from our
friends and our native land. To set energetically about
preparations for a permanent residence seemed so like making up our
minds to saying adieu to home and friends for ever, that we tacitly
shrank from it and put off our preparations, for one reason and
another, as long as we could. Then there was a little uncertainty
still as to there being natives on the island, and we entertained a
kind of faint hope that a ship might come and take us off. But as
day after day passed, and neither savages nor ships appeared, we
gave up all hope of an early deliverance and set diligently to work
at our homestead.
During this time, however, we had not been altogether idle. We
made several experiments in cooking the cocoa-nut, most of which
did not improve it. Then we removed our goods, and took up our
abode in the cave, but found the change so bad that we returned
gladly to the bower. Besides this we bathed very frequently, and
talked a great deal; at least Jack and Peterkin did, - I listened.
Among other useful things, Jack, who was ever the most active and
diligent, converted about three inches of the hoop-iron into an
excellent knife. First he beat it quite flat with the axe. Then
he made a rude handle, and tied the hoop-iron to it with our piece
of whip-cord, and ground it to an edge on a piece of sand-stone.
When it was finished he used it to shape a better handle, to which
he fixed it with a strip of his cotton handkerchief; - in which
operation he had, as Peterkin pointed out, torn off one of Lord
Nelson's noses. However, the whip-cord, thus set free, was used by
Peterkin as a fishing line. He merely tied a piece of oyster to
the end of it. This the fish were allowed to swallow, and then
they were pulled quickly ashore. But as the line was very short
and we had no boat, the fish we caught were exceedingly small.
One day Peterkin came up from the beach, where he had been angling,
and said in a very cross tone, "I'll tell you what, Jack, I'm not
going to be humbugged with catching such contemptible things any
longer. I want you to swim out with me on your back, and let me
fish in deep water!"
"Dear me, Peterkin," replied Jack, "I had no idea you were taking
the thing so much to heart, else I would have got you out of that
difficulty long ago. Let me see," - and Jack looked down at a
piece of timber on which he had been labouring, with a peculiar
gaze of abstraction, which he always assumed when trying to invent
or discover anything.
"What say you to building a boat?" he inquired, looking up hastily.
"Take far too long," was the reply; "can't be bothered waiting. I
want to begin at once!"
Again Jack considered. "I have it!" he cried. "We'll fell a large
tree and launch the trunk of it in the water, so that when you want
to fish you've nothing to do but to swim out to it."
"Would not a small raft do better?" said I.
"Much better; but we have no ropes to bind it together with.
Perhaps we may find something hereafter that will do as well, but,
in the meantime, let us try the tree."
This was agreed on, so we started off to a spot not far distant,
where we knew of a tree that would suit us, which grew near the
water's edge. As soon as we reached it Jack threw off his coat,
and, wielding the axe with his sturdy arms, hacked and hewed at it
for a quarter of an hour without stopping. Then he paused, and,
while he sat down to rest, I continued the work. Then Peterkin
made a vigorous attack on it, so that when Jack renewed his
powerful blows, a few minutes cutting brought it down with a
"Hurrah! now for it," cried Jack; "let us off with its head."
So saying he began to cut through the stem again, at about six
yards from the thick end. This done, he cut three strong, short
poles or levers from the stout branches, with which to roll the log
down the beach into the sea; for, as it was nearly two feet thick
at the large end, we could not move it without such helps. With
the levers, however, we rolled it slowly into the sea.
Having been thus successful in launching our vessel, we next shaped
the levers into rude oars or paddles, and then attempted to embark.
This was easy enough to do; but, after seating ourselves astride
the log, it was with the utmost difficulty we kept it from rolling
round and plunging us into the water. Not that we minded that
much; but we preferred, if possible, to fish in dry clothes. To be
sure, our trousers were necessarily wet, as our legs were dangling
in the water on each side of the log; but, as they could be easily
dried, we did not care. After half an hour's practice, we became
expert enough to keep our balance pretty steadily. Then Peterkin
laid down his paddle, and having baited his line with a whole
oyster, dropt it into deep water.
"Now, then, Jack," said he, "be cautious; steer clear o' that sea-
weed. There; that's it; gently, now, gently. I see a fellow at
least a foot long down there, coming to - ha! that's it! Oh!
bother, he's off."
"Did he bite?" said Jack, urging the log onwards a little with his
"Bite? ay! He took it into his mouth, but the moment I began to
haul he opened his jaws and let it out again."
"Let him swallow it next time," said Jack, laughing at the
melancholy expression of Peterkin's visage.
"There he's again," cried Peterkin, his eyes flashing with
excitement. "Look out! Now then! No! Yes! No! Why, the brute
WON'T swallow it!"
"Try to haul him up by the mouth, then," cried Jack. "Do it
A heavy sigh and a look of blank despair showed that poor Peterkin
had tried and failed again.
"Never mind, lad," said Jack, in a voice of sympathy; "we'll move
on, and offer it to some other fish." So saying, Jack plied his
paddle; but scarcely had he moved from the spot, when a fish with
an enormous head and a little body darted from under a rock and
swallowed the bait at once.
"Got him this time, - that's a fact!" cried Peterkin, hauling in
the line. "He's swallowed the bait right down to his tail, I
declare. Oh what a thumper!"
As the fish came struggling to the surface, we leaned forward to
see it, and overbalanced the log. Peterkin threw his arms round
the fish's neck; and, in another instant, we were all floundering
in the water!
A shout of laughter burst from us as we rose to the surface like
three drowned rats, and seized hold of the log. We soon recovered
our position, and sat more warily, while Peterkin secured the fish,
which had well-nigh escaped in the midst of our struggles. It was
little worth having, however; but, as Peterkin remarked, it was
better than the smouts he had been catching for the last two or
three days; so we laid it on the log before us, and having re-
baited the line, dropt it in again for another.
Now, while we were thus intent upon our sport, our attention was
suddenly attracted by a ripple on the sea, just a few yards away
from us. Peterkin shouted to us to paddle in that direction, as he
thought it was a big fish, and we might have a chance of catching
it. But Jack, instead of complying, said, in a deep, earnest tone
of voice, which I never before heard him use, -
"Haul up your line, Peterkin; seize your paddle; quick, - it's a
The horror with which we heard this may well be imagined, for it
must be remembered that our legs were hanging down in the water,
and we could not venture to pull them up without upsetting the log.
Peterkin instantly hauled up the line; and, grasping his paddle,
exerted himself to the utmost, while we also did our best to make
for shore. But we were a good way off, and the log being, as I
have before said, very heavy, moved but slowly through the water.
We now saw the shark quite distinctly swimming round and round us,
its sharp fin every now and then protruding above the water. From
its active and unsteady motions, Jack knew it was making up its
mind to attack us, so he urged us vehemently to paddle for our
lives, while he himself set us the example. Suddenly he shouted
"Look out! - there he comes!" and in a second we saw the monstrous
fish dive close under us, and turn half over on his side. But we
all made a great commotion with our paddles, which no doubt
frightened it away for that time, as we saw it immediately after
circling round us as before.
"Throw the fish to him," cried Jack, in a quick, suppressed voice;
"we'll make the shore in time yet if we can keep him off for a few
Peterkin stopped one instant to obey the command, and then plied
his paddle again with all his might. No sooner had the fish fallen
on the water than we observed the shark to sink. In another second
we saw its white breast rising; for sharks always turn over on
their sides when about to seize their prey, their mouths being not
at the point of their heads like those of other fish, but, as it
were, under their chins. In another moment his snout rose above
the water, - his wide jaws, armed with a terrific double row of
teeth, appeared. The dead fish was engulfed, and the shark sank
out of sight. But Jack was mistaken in supposing that it would be
satisfied. In a very few minutes it returned to us, and its quick
motions led us to fear that it would attack us at once.
"Stop paddling," cried Jack suddenly. "I see it coming up behind
us. Now, obey my orders quickly. Our lives may depend on it
Ralph. Peterkin, do your best to BALANCE THE LOG. Don't look out
for the shark. Don't glance behind you. Do nothing but balance
Peterkin and I instantly did as we were ordered, being only too
glad to do anything that afforded us a chance or a hope of escape,
for we had implicit confidence in Jack's courage and wisdom. For a
few seconds, that seemed long minutes to my mind, we sat thus
silently; but I could not resist glancing backward, despite the
orders to the contrary. On doing so, I saw Jack sitting rigid like
a statue, with his paddle raised, his lips compressed, and his eye-
brows bent over his eyes, which glared savagely from beneath them
down into the water. I also saw the shark, to my horror, quite
close under the log, in the act of darting towards Jack's foot. I
could scarce suppress a cry on beholding this. In another moment
the shark rose. Jack drew his leg suddenly from the water, and
threw it over the log. The monster's snout rubbed against the log
as it passed, and revealed its hideous jaws, into which Jack
instantly plunged the paddle, and thrust it down its throat. So
violent was the act that Jack rose to his feet in performing it;
the log was thereby rolled completely over, and we were once more
plunged into the water. We all rose, spluttering and gasping, in a
"Now then, strike out for shore," cried Jack. "Here, Peterkin,
catch hold of my collar, and kick out with a will."
Peterkin did as he was desired, and Jack struck out with such force
that he cut through the water like a boat; while I, being free from
all encumbrance, succeeded in keeping up with him. As we had by
this time drawn pretty near to the shore, a few minutes more
sufficed to carry us into shallow water; and, finally, we landed in
safety, though very much exhausted, and not a little frightened by
our terrible adventure.
The beauties of the bottom of the sea tempt Peterkin to dive - How
he did it - More difficulties overcome - The water garden - Curious
creatures of the sea - The tank - Candles missed very much, and the
candle-nut tree discovered - Wonderful account of Peterkin's first
voyage - Cloth found growing on a tree - A plan projected, and arms
prepared for offence and defence - A dreadful cry.
OUR encounter with the shark was the first great danger that had
befallen us since landing on this island, and we felt very
seriously affected by it, especially when we considered that we had
so often unwittingly incurred the same danger before while bathing.
We were now forced to take to fishing again in the shallow water,
until we should succeed in constructing a raft. What troubled us
most, however, was, that we were compelled to forego our morning
swimming excursions. We did, indeed, continue to enjoy our bathe
in the shallow water, but Jack and I found that one great source of
our enjoyment was gone, when we could no longer dive down among the
beautiful coral groves at the bottom of the lagoon. We had come to
be so fond of this exercise, and to take such an interest in
watching the formations of coral and the gambols of the many
beautiful fish amongst the forests of red and green sea-weeds, that
we had become quite familiar with the appearance of the fish and
the localities that they chiefly haunted. We had also become
expert divers. But we made it a rule never to stay long under
water at a time. Jack told me that to do so often was bad for the
lungs, and, instead of affording us enjoyment, would ere long do us
a serious injury. So we never stayed at the bottom as long as we
might have done, but came up frequently to the top for fresh air,
and dived down again immediately. Sometimes, when Jack happened to
be in a humorous frame, he would seat himself at the bottom of the
sea on one of the brain corals, as if he were seated on a large
paddock-stool, and then make faces at me, in order, if possible, to
make me laugh under water. At first, when he took me unawares, he
nearly succeeded, and I had to shoot to the surface in order to
laugh; but afterwards I became aware of his intentions, and, being
naturally of a grave disposition, I had no difficulty in
restraining myself. I used often to wonder how poor Peterkin would
have liked to be with us; and he sometimes expressed much regret at
being unable to join us. I used to do my best to gratify him, poor
fellow, by relating all the wonders that we saw; but this, instead
of satisfying, seemed only to whet his curiosity the more, so one
day we prevailed on him to try to go down with us. But, although a
brave boy in every other way, Peterkin was very nervous in the
water, and it was with difficulty we got him to consent to be taken
down, for he could never have managed to push himself down to the
bottom without assistance. But no sooner had we pulled him down a
yard or so into the deep clear water, than he began to struggle and
kick violently, so we were forced to let him go, when he rose out
of the water like a cork, gave a loud gasp and a frightful roar,
and struck out for the land with the utmost possible haste.
Now, all this pleasure we were to forego, and when we thought
thereon, Jack and I felt very much depressed in our spirits. I
could see, also, that Peterkin grieved and sympathized with us,
for, when talking about this matter, he refrained from jesting and
bantering us upon it.
As, however, a man's difficulties usually set him upon devising
methods to overcome them, whereby he often discovers better things
than those he may have lost, so this our difficulty induced us to
think of searching for a large pool among the rocks, where the
water should be deep enough for diving yet so surrounded by rocks
as to prevent sharks from getting at us. And such a pool we
afterwards found, which proved to be very much better than our most
sanguine hopes anticipated. It was situated not more than ten
minutes' walk from our camp, and was in the form of a small deep
bay or basin, the entrance to which, besides being narrow, was so
shallow that no fish so large as a shark could get in, at least not
unless he should be a remarkably thin one.
Inside of this basin, which we called our Water Garden, the coral
formations were much more wonderful, and the sea-weed plants far
more lovely and vividly coloured, than in the lagoon itself. And
the water was so clear and still, that, although very deep, you
could see the minutest object at the bottom. Besides this, there
was a ledge of rock which overhung the basin at its deepest part,
from which we could dive pleasantly and whereon Peterkin could sit
and see not only all the wonders I had described to him, but also
see Jack and me creeping amongst the marine shrubbery at the
bottom, like, as - he expressed it, - "two great white sea-
monsters." During these excursions of ours to the bottom of the
sea, we began to get an insight into the manners and customs of its
inhabitants, and to make discoveries of wonderful things, the like
of which we never before conceived. Among other things, we were
deeply interested with the operations of the little coral insect
which, I was informed by Jack, is supposed to have entirely
constructed many of the numerous islands in Pacific Ocean. And,
certainly, when we considered the great reef which these insects
had formed round the island on which we were cast, and observed
their ceaseless activity in building their myriad cells, it did at
first seem as if this might be true; but then, again, when I looked
at the mountains of the island, and reflected that there were
thousands of such, many of them much higher, in the South Seas, I
doubted that there must be some mistake here. But more of this
I also became much taken up with the manners and appearance of the
anemones, and star-fish, and crabs, and sea-urchins, and such-like
creatures; and was not content with watching those I saw during my
dives in the Water Garden, but I must needs scoop out a hole in the
coral rock close to it, which I filled with salt water, and stocked
with sundry specimens of anemones and shell-fish, in order to watch
more closely how they were in the habit of passing their time. Our
burning-glass also now became a great treasure to me, as it enabled
me to magnify, and so to perceive more clearly the forms and
actions of these curious creatures of the deep.
Having now got ourselves into a very comfortable condition, we
began to talk of a project which we had long had in contemplation,
- namely, to travel entirely round the island; in order, first, to
ascertain whether it contained any other productions which might be
useful to us; and, second, to see whether there might be any place
more convenient and suitable for our permanent residence than that
on which we were now encamped. Not that we were in any degree
dissatisfied with it; on the contrary, we entertained quite a home-
feeling to our bower and its neighbourhood; but if a better place
did exist, there was no reason why we should not make use of it.
At any rate, it would be well to know of its existence.
We had much earnest talk over this matter. But Jack proposed that,
before undertaking such an excursion, we should supply ourselves
with good defensive arms, for, as we intended not only to go round
all the shore, but to ascend most of the valleys, before returning
home, we should be likely to meet in with, he would not say
dangers, but, at least, with everything that existed on the island,
whatever that might be.
"Besides," said Jack, "it won't do for us to live on cocoa-nuts and
oysters always. No doubt they are very excellent in their way, but
I think a little animal food, now and then, would be agreeable as
well as good for us; and as there are many small birds among the
trees, some of which are probably very good to eat, I think it
would be a capital plan to make bows and arrows, with which we
could easily knock them over."
"First rate!" cried Peterkin. "You will make the bows, Jack, and
I'll try my hand at the arrows. The fact is, I'm quite tired of
throwing stones at the birds. I began the very day we landed, I
think, and have persevered up to the present time, but I've never
hit anything yet."
"You forget," said I, "you hit me one day on the shin."
"Ah, true," replied Peterkin, "and a precious shindy you kicked up
in consequence. But you were at least four yards away from the
impudent paroquet I aimed at; so you see what a horribly bad shot I
"But," said I, "Jack, you cannot make three bows and arrows before
to-morrow, and would it not be a pity to waste time, now that we
have made up our minds to go on this expedition? Suppose that you
make one bow and arrow for yourself, and we can take our clubs?"
"That's true, Ralph. The day is pretty far advanced, and I doubt
if I can make even one bow before dark. To be sure I might work by
fire-light, after the sun goes down."
We had, up to this time, been in the habit of going to bed with the
sun, as we had no pressing call to work o' nights; and, indeed, our
work during the day was usually hard enough, - what between
fishing, and improving our bower, and diving in the Water Garden,
and rambling in the woods; so that, when night came, we were
usually very glad to retire to our beds. But now that we had a
desire to work at night, we felt a wish for candles.
"Won't a good blazing fire give you light enough?" inquired
"Yes," replied Jack, "quite enough; but then it will give us a
great deal more than enough of heat in this warm climate of ours."
"True," said Peterkin; "I forgot that. It would roast us."
"Well, as you're always doing that at any rate," remarked Jack, "we
could scarcely call it a change. But the fact is, I've been
thinking over this subject before. There is a certain nut growing
in these islands which is called the candle-nut, because the
natives use it instead of candles, and I know all about it, and how
to prepare it for burning - "
"Then why don't you do it?" interrupted Peterkin. "Why have you
kept us in the dark so long, you vile philosopher?"
"Because," said Jack, "I have not seen the tree yet, and I'm not
sure that I should know either the tree or the nuts if I did see
them. You see, I forget the description."
"Ah! that's just the way with me," said Peterkin with a deep sigh.
"I never could keep in my mind for half an hour the few
descriptions I ever attempted to remember. The very first voyage I
ever made was caused by my mistaking a description, or forgetting
it, which is the same thing. And a horrible voyage it was. I had
to fight with the captain the whole way out, and made the homeward
voyage by swimming!"
"Come, Peterkin," said I, "you can't get even ME to believe that."
"Perhaps not, but it's true, notwithstanding," returned Peterkin,
pretending to be hurt at my doubting his word.
"Let us hear how it happened," said Jack, while a good-natured
smile overspread his face.
"Well, you must know," began Peterkin, "that the very day before I
went to sea, I was greatly taken up with a game at hockey, which I
was playing with my old school-fellows for the last time before
leaving them. You see I was young then, Ralph." Peterkin gazed,
in an abstracted and melancholy manner, out to sea! "Well, in the
midst of the game, my uncle, who had taken all the bother and
trouble of getting me bound 'prentice and rigged out, came and took
me aside, and told me that he was called suddenly away from home,
and would not be able to see me aboard, as he had intended.
'However,' said he, 'the captain knows you are coming, so that's
not of much consequence; but as you'll have to find the ship
yourself, you must remember her name and description. D'ye hear,
boy?' I certainly did hear, but I'm afraid I did not understand,
for my mind was so taken up with the game, which I saw my side was
losing, that I began to grow impatient, and the moment my uncle
finished his description of the ship, and bade me good-bye, I
bolted back to my game, with only a confused idea of three masts,
and a green painted tafferel, and a gilt figure-head of Hercules
with his club at the bow. Next day I was so much cast down with
everybody saying good-bye, and a lot o' my female friends cryin'
horribly over me, that I did not start for the harbour, where the
ship was lying among a thousand others, till it was almost too
late. So I had to run the whole way. When I reached the pier,
there were so many masts, and so much confusion, that I felt quite
humblebumbled in my faculties. 'Now,' said I to myself, 'Peterkin,
you're in a fix.' Then I fancied I saw a gilt figure-head and
three masts, belonging to a ship just about to start; so I darted
on board, but speedily jumped on shore again, when I found that two
of the masts belonged to another vessel, and the figurehead to a
third! At last I caught sight of what I made sure was it, - a fine
large vessel just casting off her moorings. The tafferel was
green. Three masts, - yes, that must be it, - and the gilt figure-
head of Hercules. To be sure it had a three-pronged pitchfork in
its hand instead of a club; but that might be my uncle's mistake;
or perhaps Hercules sometimes varied his weapons. 'Cast off!'
roared a voice from the quarter-deck. 'Hold on!' cried I, rushing
frantically through the crowd. 'Hold on! hold on!' repeated some
of the bystanders, while the men at the ropes delayed for a minute.
This threw the captain into a frightful rage; for some of his
friends had come down to see him off, and having his orders
contradicted so flatly was too much for him. However, the delay
was sufficient. I took a race and a good leap; the ropes were cast
off; the steam-tug gave a puff, and we started. Suddenly the
captain was up to me: 'Where did you come from, you scamp, and
what do you want here?'
"'Please, sir,' said I, touching my cap, 'I'm you're new 'prentice
"'New 'Prentice,' said he, stamping, 'I've got no new 'prentice.
My boys are all aboard already. This is a trick, you young
blackguard. You've run away, you have;' and the captain stamped
about the deck and swore dreadfully; for, you see, the thought of
having to stop the ship and lower a boat and lose half an hour, all
for the slake of sending a small boy ashore, seemed to make him
very angry. Besides, it was blowin' fresh outside the harbour, so
that, to have let the steamer alongside to put me into it was no
easy job. Just as we were passing the pier-head, where several
boats were rowing into harbour, the captain came up to me, -
"'You've run away, you blackguard,' he said, giving me a box on the
"'No I haven't,' said I, angrily; for the box was by no means a
"Hark'ee, boy, can you swim?'
"'Yes,' said I.