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Chapter 44

  • The next day the weather was delightful. We rose before daybreak. My eldes_ons took their work-tools, which we might want, and their guns also, bu_nder the condition that they should not use them till I gave the word,
  • "Fire!" I carried the bag of provisions. Our flock of sheep had increased s_uch at the farm, that we allowed ourselves to kill one, and my wife ha_oasted a piece for us the preceding evening; to this we added a cake o_assava, and for our dessert we depended on the fruits of the trees we migh_iscover. But, previous to our departure, while I was taking leave of my wif_nd Francis, I heard a dispute in the colonnade, which I hastened to learn th_ause of. I found it was a question between Fritz and Jack, whether we shoul_ake the tour of the island by sea or land; and each was anxious for m_upport. Fritz complained that, since their two expeditions in the canoe, Jac_elieved himself the first sailor in the world, and that they had given hi_he name of Lord of the Waves, because he was constantly saying—"When I wa_nder the waves—when the waves were washing over me, do you think that the_eft me dry?"
  • "No, Mr. Sportsman," said Jack, "you got enough of them, and that's the reaso_ou don't wish to try them again. For my part, I love the waves, and I sing,
  • 'The sea! the sea! it was the sea that brought us here!'"
  • "What a boaster you are," said Fritz: "it was only yesterday you said to me,
  • 'I will guide you; I know the way by the rocks; I got my buffalo there, and _ntend to have another.' Was it in the pinnace you intended to pass th_efile, and pursue buffaloes?"
  • "No, no! I meant on foot," said Jack; "but I thought we should be only tw_hen. But, as we are four—papa at the helm, and three bold rowers, why shoul_e fatigue ourselves in making the tour of the island on our legs, when w_ave a good vessel to carry us? What says Mr. Philosopher, the prince o_dlers, to it?"
  • "For my part," said Ernest, quietly, "I am quite indifferent whether I use m_egs in walking, or my arms in rowing, it is equally fatiguing; but walkin_ives me more chance of filling my plant-box and my game-bag."
  • "And does he think," added Fritz, "that the mulberry and bread-fruit trees,
  • which we shall certainly find on the other side, grow on the sea? withou_aming my gazelle, which does not run over the waves."
  • "No, it is waiting, without moving, for you to shoot it," said Jack; "an_rnest, perhaps you may find on the sea some of those curious things hal_lants, half animals, which you were showing me in a book."
  • "The zoophytes, or polypi; for they are the same family, though there are mor_han a thousand species," said Ernest, charmed to display his knowledge; but _topped him by saying: "We will dispense with the thousand names at present.
  • After hearing all your arguments, attend to mine; even Jack must yield t_hem. Our principal aim now being to search for the trees we are in need of,
  • and to examine the productions of the island, our most sensible plan will b_o walk."
  • Jack still contended that we might land occasionally; but I showed him th_anger of this, the island being, in all probability, surrounded by reefs,
  • which might extend so far into the sea as to take us out of the sight of th_sland; this I intended to ascertain some day; and in the mean time I propose_o them that we should endeavour to find a pass round the rocks on our side,
  • from whence we could walk to the defile at the other end, take our canoe,
  • which we had left at anchor near the Great Bay, and return to Tent House.
  • Jack was in ecstasies; he declared the pass must be very well concealed tha_scaped his search, and, seizing his lasso and his bow, rushed out the first,
  • singing "The sea! the sea!"
  • "There goes a sailor formed by nature," thought I, as we followed the cours_f the chain of rocks to the left of our dwelling. It conducted us first t_he place of our landing, that little uncultivated plain of triangular form,
  • of which the base was washed by the sea, and the point was lost among th_ocks. I found here some traces of our first establishment; but how wretche_ll appeared, compared with our present comforts! We tried here in vain t_ind a passage to cross the rocks—the chain was everywhere like a_mpenetrable wall. We arrived at the ravine Fritz and Ernest had scaled whe_hey discovered their grotto; and, truly, nothing but the courage and rashnes_f youth could have undertaken this enterprise, and continued it daily fo_hree weeks. It appeared to me almost impossible; Fritz offered to ascend, t_how me how they accomplished it; but I would not consent, as it could serv_o useful purpose. I thought it better for us to proceed to the border of th_sland, where it was not impossible there might be a small space on the stran_etween the rocks and the sea, round which we could pass; from my sons bein_ble to distinguish from the summit the country on the other side, it wa_vident the chain of rocks could not be very broad. Suddenly Fritz struck hi_orehead, and, seizing Ernest by the arm—"Brother," said he, "what fools w_ave been!"
  • Ernest inquired what folly they had been guilty of.
  • "Why did we not," said Fritz, "when we were working within our grotto, attemp_o make the opening on the other side? We should not have had much difficulty,
  • I am persuaded, and if our tools had not been sufficient, a little powde_ould have opened us a door on the other side. Only consider, father, th_onvenience of bringing the cart loaded with the trees we wanted through ou_rotto, and to be able to go a-hunting without having I don't know how man_iles to go."
  • "Well, we can still do that," said Ernest, in his usual calm, grave manner;
  • "if we do not find another passage, we will make one through the Grott_rnestine, with mamma's permission, as it is her property."
  • This idea of my son appeared good. It was quite certain, from our experienc_t Tent House and in the grotto, that the cavity in the rocks was of ver_reat extent, and it did not appear difficult to pierce through to the othe_ide; but some other chain of rocks, some gigantic tree, some hill, at the en_f our tunnel, might render all our labour useless. I proposed that we shoul_efer our work till we had examined the nature of the ground on the othe_ide; my sons agreed, and we proceeded with renewed courage, when we wer_uddenly checked by the sight of the sea beating against a perpendicular roc_f terrific height, which terminated our island on this side, and did not giv_s a chance of going on. I saw the rock did not extend far; but how to ge_ound it, I could not devise. I did not conceive we could get the pinnac_ound, as the coast seemed surrounded by reefs; masses of rock stood up in th_ea, and the breakers showed that more were hidden. After much consideratio_nd many plans, Ernest proposed that we should swim out to the uncovere_ocks, and endeavour to pass round. Fritz objected, on account of his arms an_mmunition; but Ernest suggested that the powder should be secured in th_ockets of his clothes, which he might carry on his head, holding his gu_bove the water.
  • With some difficulty we arranged our incumbrances, and succeeded in reachin_he range of outer rocks, without swimming, as the water was not above ou_houlders. We rested here awhile, and, putting on some of our clothes, w_ommenced our walk over sharp stones, which wounded our feet. In many places,
  • where the rocks lay low, we were up to the waist in the water. Ernest, th_roposer of the plan, encouraged us, and led the way for some time; but a_ast he fell behind, and remained so long, that I became alarmed, and callin_loud, for I had lost sight of him, he answered me, and at last I discovere_im stretched on the rock, endeavouring to separate a piece from it with hi_nife.
  • "Father," said he, "I am now certain that this bed of rocks, over which we ar_alking, and which we fancied was formed of stone or flints, is nothing bu_he work of those remarkable zoophytes, called coral insects, which form cora_nd many other extraordinary things; they can even make whole islands. Look a_hese little points and hollows, and these stars of every colour and ever_orm; I would give all the world to have a specimen of each kind."
  • He succeeded in breaking off a piece, which was of a deep orange-colou_nside; he collected also, and deposited in his bag, some other pieces, o_arious forms and colours. These greatly enriched his collection; and, idle a_e was, he did not complain of any difficulty in obtaining them. He had give_is gun to Jack, who complained much of the ruggedness of our road. Our marc_as truly painful, and I repented more than once of having yielded to th_dea; besides the misery of walking along these shelly rocks, which presente_oints like the sharp teeth of a saw, tearing our shoes and even our skin, th_ea, in some of the lower places, was so high as to bar our passage, and w_ere obliged, in the interval between two waves, to rush across, with th_ater to our chins. We had some difficulty to avoid being carried away. _rembled especially for Jack; though small and light, he preferred facing th_ave to avoiding it. I was several times obliged to catch hold of him, an_arrowly escaped destruction along with him. Happily, our march was not abov_alf a mile, and we gained the shore at last without any serious accident, bu_uch fatigued and foot-sore; and we made a resolution never more to cross th_oral reefs.
  • After dressing ourselves, resting, and taking a slight refreshment on th_each, we resumed our march more at our ease into the interior of the island;
  • but though the long grass was not so sharp as the coral, it was almost a_roublesome, twisting round our legs, and threatening to throw us down ever_tep we took. Ernest, loaded with his bag of fragments of rock, coral, an_oophytes, had given his gun to Jack; and, fearing an accident among the lon_rass, I thought it prudent to discharge it. In order to profit by it, I fire_t a little quadruped, about the size of a squirrel, and killed it. I_ppeared to me to be the animal called by naturalists the palm-squirrel,
  • because it climbs the cocoa and date-palms, hooks itself by its tail, which i_ery long and flexible, to the upper branches, and feeds at pleasure on th_ruit, of which it is very fond. We amused ourselves by details of the habit_f this animal, occasionally separating to make more discoveries, but agreein_n a particular call, which was to assemble us when necessary,—a precaution b_o means useless, as it turned out.
  • Fritz, with his head raised, went on examining all the trees, and occasionall_iving a keen look after his gazelle. Ernest, stooping down, examined plants,
  • insects, and, occasionally pursuing rare and beautiful butterflies, wa_illing his bag and plant-box with various curiosities. Jack, with his lass_n his hand, prepared himself to fling it round the legs of the first buffal_e met with, and was vexed that he did not see any. For my own part, I wa_ngaged in surveying the chain of rocks, in order to discover that whic_ontained the Grotto Ernestine. It was easy to recognize it, from its summi_left in two; and I wished to ascertain, as nearly as possible, if the clef_xtended to the base of the rock, as this would render our work much easier.
  • This side of the island did not resemble that near the Great Bay, with whic_ack and I had been so much charmed. The island was much narrower here, an_nstead of the wide plain, crossed by a river, divided by delightful woods,
  • giving an idea of paradise on earth; we were journeying through a contracte_alley, lying between the rocky wall which divided the island, and a chain o_andy hills, which hid the sea and sheltered the valley from the wind. Frit_nd I ascended one of these hills, on which a few pines and broom wer_rowing, and perceived beyond them a barren tract, stretching to the sea,
  • where the coral reefs rose to the level of the water, and appeared to exten_ar into the sea. Any navigators, sailing along these shores, would pronounc_he island inaccessible and entirely barren. This is not the fact; the gras_s very thick, and the trees of noble growth; we found many unknown to us,
  • some loaded with fruit; also, several beautiful shrubs covered with flowers;
  • the dwarf orange-tree, the elegant melaleuca, the nutmeg-tree, and the Benga_ose blending its flowers with the fragrant jasmine. I should never finish, i_ were to try and name all the plants found in this shady valley, which migh_e called the botanic garden of Nature. Ernest was in ecstasies; he wished t_arry away everything, but he did not know how to dispose of them.
  • "Ah!" said he, "if only our grotto were open to this side!"
  • At this moment Fritz came running out of breath, crying out, "The bread-frui_ree! I have found the bread-fruit tree! Here is the fruit,—excellent,
  • delicious bread. Taste it, father; here, Ernest; here, Jack;" and he gave u_ach a part of an oval fruit, about the size of an ordinary melon, whic_eally seemed very good and nourishing.
  • "There are many of these trees," continued he, "loaded with fruit. Would tha_e had our grotto opened, that we might collect a store of them, now that the_re ripe."
  • My boys pointed out to me exactly the situation of the grotto, judging fro_he rock above, and longed for their tools, that they might commence th_pening directly. We proceeded to make our way through a border of trees an_ushes, that separated us from the rock, that we might examine it, and judg_f the difficulties of our undertaking. Jack preceded us, as usual, afte_iving Ernest his gun; Fritz followed him, and suddenly turning to me, said,—
  • "I believe kind Nature has saved us much trouble; the rock appears to b_ivided from top to bottom; at the foot I see a sort of cave, or grotto,
  • already made."
  • At this moment Jack uttered a piercing cry, and came running to us, his lass_n his hand: "Two monstrous beasts!" cried he. "Help! help!" We rushe_orward, our guns ready, and saw at the entrance of the cave two large brow_ears. The black bear, whose fur is most valued, is only found in cold an_ountainous countries; but the brown prefers the south. It is a carnivorou_nimal, considered very ferocious. The black bear lives only on vegetables an_oney. Of these, the one I judged to be the female seemed much irritated,
  • uttering deep growls, and furiously gnashing her teeth. As I knew something o_hese animals, having met with them on the Alps, I remembered having hear_hat a sharp whistling terrifies and checks them. I therefore whistled as lon_nd loudly as I could, and immediately saw the female retire backwards int_he cave, while the male, raising himself on his hind legs, stood quite still,
  • with his paws closed. My two elder sons fired into his breast: he fell down,
  • but being only wounded, turned furiously on us. I fired a third shot at him,
  • and finished him. We then hastened to load our guns again, to be ready t_eceive his companion. Jack wished to use his lasso; but I explained to hi_hat the legs of the bear were too short and thick for such a measure to b_uccessful. He related to us, that having entered the cave, he saw somethin_oving at the bottom; he took up a stone, and threw it with all his strengt_t the object; immediately he heard a frightful growling, and saw two larg_easts coming towards him; he had barely time to escape and call for help, an_hen to hide himself behind a tree. To save ourselves from the other bear, i_as necessary that we should take some prompt measures; we therefore advanced,
  • and formed a line