AN AMERICAN CRUSOE
A Record of Remarkable Adventures on a Desert Island with only a Jackknife
By A. HYATT VERRILL
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY MARTIN LEWIS
Originally published by DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY, NEW YORK, 1914.
Digital capture by Doug Frizzle, March 2009; dedicated with thanks to Steve and his Uncle Al.
This is Verrill's very first fictional novel.
A great number of castaway stories have been written and published, and while these may differ more or less in characters, location, plot, and other details, yet each and every one has certain incidents common to all the others.
Nearly all the castaways of fiction—from Robinson Crusoe to Perseverance Island— have been provided with an immense amount of useful material from their wrecked ships, besides being located on islands which never existed, and never could exist in reality, but were created and stocked with life and planted with vegetation solely for the benefit of castaways.
Authors must of necessity be permitted a certain amount of license, but it seems preposterous to describe a tiny island in the tropics as inhabited by animal and plant life belonging normally to the frigid, temperate, and tropical zones, simply to provide the heroes of the stories with a store of raw material from which to more easily supply their wants.
The present narrative has been written mainly to illustrate the resources that may actually be found on numerous tropical islands and the manner in which they may be utilised by any intelligent person who has learned to observe and remember things.
That the lessons taught or the facts related may prove more interesting and acceptable to the juvenile mind, the material has been woven into a story of a castaway with a little touch of adventure added, and, as no boy would consider a castaway story complete without treasure trove of some sort, the hero of Trade Wind Key has been rewarded for his involuntary exile by a goodly amount of that useful commodity.
The "desert island" described herein really exists, and on its surface and in the surrounding waters each and every one of the plants and animals mentioned may be found, while pirates' forts, buccaneers' ruins, and similar relics of bygone days are exactly as described in the story.
It was during a Natural History expedition to little-known parts of the West Indies that the author camped for several weeks upon this Key, and while there he realised what an ideal location for a castaway the islet presented. In order to procure material which would furnish an accurate account of what a castaway might accomplish in such a spot, the author actually attempted and performed every feat related in the story and underwent all the experiences in person, save suffering, and treasure-finding, and as for three days no fresh water was obtainable, save from pools of rain water on the rocks, a realistic touch of privation was added.
The author only regrets that it is not within his power to transport a shipload of adventure-loving American boys to this island-gem and there turn them loose to ramble over the ruins, explore the dense tropical forests, penetrate the caves, and search for hidden treasure in the old underground vaults.
The next best thing is to tell them the story, and it is believed that any boy who will read this account of a modern castaway will benefit thereby, for it has been the aim of the author to embody a fund of valuable information regarding tropical fauna and flora in the story, as well as to point out the various native methods of utilising the tropical growths and animals for fuel, food, clothing, and dwellings.
The vast importance of learning to observe nature closely and of retaining the memories of such observations for future needs is brought out in this story, for without such attainments any person thrown upon his own resources will invariably suffer needless privations and discomforts even though surrounded with untold natural resources.
The illustrations are from photographs taken on the real Key or are from sketches and drawings made on the spot.
When, as a boy, I longed, like most other youngsters, to become a second Robinson Crusoe, I little dreamed how completely my desires would be realised or how different from my youthful imaginings the actual experience would prove.
Not until I was a castaway myself did I fully realise how fortunate old Robinson was in being provided with the various tools and articles salved from his ship or created for his welfare by the imagination of Defoe.
How different was my own experience may be learned from the following pages, relating the story of my castaway life on a West Indian islet and deprived of most of the necessities and all the luxuries of everyday life.
For several months I had been engaged in making Natural History collections in the West Indies for one of our large museums and had nearly completed my work when I reached Sabado Island, a British colony in the Lesser Antilles.
Here I learned of a small island, or Key, some two hundred miles out in the Caribbean Sea and known as "Cayo Levantado," or "Trade Wind Key."
My informants, the local fishermen, stated that the spot was seldom or never visited, save by turtlers or fishermen when blown far off their course and who were thus compelled to land on the islet. It was described as a wooded Key surrounded by reefs and deep water and without human inhabitants or shelter of any sort and with no streams, springs, pools, or any other source of fresh water. It was a sort of "No-man's Land," the rightful ownership of which had never been established, and indeed was considered of so little value as to be ignored by the several governments claiming sovereignty over the neighbouring islands. Vague stories of buried treasure and spooks of bygone pirates were added, but it mainly interested me as being the home of innumerable seabirds, several species of which I had not been able to obtain elsewhere.
I at once determined to visit the Key, and after considerable trouble secured the services of a mulatto "Captain" and his sloop. The sloop was of the ordinary West Indian type, deep and broad, with a single raking mast and huge sail, but exceedingly seaworthy. It was practically an open boat, for, while a small portion forward and aft was decked, the entire centre consisted of open bold. There were no sleeping accommodations, save some box-like bunks in a tiny cuddy, and to avoid the vermin and dirt of the interior I swung a hammock on deck. The crew consisted of the "Captain" Jean and a negro boy Charlie, who acted as cook, sailor, and general utility man and whose leisure time was devoted to pumping out the sloop, which, like most of her class, leaked outrageously.
My numerous belongings safely stowed under tarpaulins in the hold, I boarded the sloop late one night, and just at dawn our anchor was weighed, and under the faint breath of the land breeze we drifted slowly out of the roadstead as the cloud-wreaths about the towering mountain-peaks turned rosy pink and the shadows of the hills grew purple in the coming light.
Slowly we slipped out from the shadow of the land across a turquoise sea, impelled by the gentle, spice-laden breeze which freshened as we stood out from the protection of the headlands and felt the sweep of the steady Trade wind.
Rapidly the town dwindled in the distance and the verdant forests and bright cane-fields of the mountains grew hazy and dim, and, looking back, I little thought that more than a year would pass before I once more gazed upon a human habitation or saw the face of a fellow-man.
For two days and nights we sailed smoothly and rapidly westward, the little ship rushing swiftly down the long, blue rollers and then, with a shake of her bows and a little smother of foam, rising to the crest of the next wave, while schools of flying-fish rose dripping from the sea and whirred off at our approach.
The third morning Jean stated that the Key was in sight, and presently I made it out—a tiny strip of hazy blue on the horizon ahead. The wind had now fallen, however, and we rolled idly on the long swells, our dingy patched sail slatting against the mast and threatening to jerk the stick out of her at every lurch. Still, an occasional catspaw filled the canvas and, the currents setting towards the island, it gradually rose more distinctly, until early in the afternoon we could distinguish the trees, the cocoanut palms along the shore, and the white spume of the rollers breaking on a high, white beach.
About this time the Captain grew uneasy, and I noticed heavy dun clouds drifting across the sky. Presently Jean ordered the boy to take the dingey in our wake, and, making a line fast to our bow, he tried to make headway by towing. The Captain explained that he feared a sudden blow or "white squall," and, as the waters in the vicinity of the Key were full of reefs, he wished if possible to make the shelter of the island before anything came on. As Charlie appeared to make some slight impression on our speed, and as inaction was growing tedious, I volunteered to help and jumped into the small boat.
With two pairs of oars and the extra muscle we soon caused a little ripple to rise around the forefoot of the sloop and, looking over my shoulder, I found the island was barely a mile away.
My head was thus turned when a sudden cry from the Captain drew my attention to windward. There—a mile or two distant— was a solid white wall extending from sky to sea; a hissing, seething mass of foam at its base and the whole travelling towards us at express-train speed.
Even as we hurriedly tried to turn the boat's head and regain the sloop, the wall of water grew perceptibly nearer while the roar of the coming wind reached our ears. Charlie, becoming panic-stricken, pulled wildly and, "catching a crab," almost upset the boat, and by the time he had picked himself up and we had cast off the tow-line the squall was all but upon us.
Frantically we turned and pulled for the sloop, but even as we reached her side the deluge and howling gale burst in all its fury and instantly the sloop—caught broadside to the wind—crashed into our little craft and bore us under.
Involuntarily I clutched at my oar and, when with a gasp I rose to the surface, I found myself tossed about upon a boiling, foaming sea and almost drowned by the torrents of driving rain.
On all sides the horizon was shut in by the descending floods and no sign of sloop, boat, or men was visible. The pelting rain served to keep down the sea and, with the aid of the oar, I had little difficulty in keeping afloat.
In a wonderfully short time the rain ceased suddenly, the screeching wind dropped to a mere breath, and the sun shone forth in its wonted tropical brilliancy.
Raising my head as far as possible, I searched the sea about me, but no sign of wreckage could I find, but in the wake of the squall the rain still descended and prevented an extensive view.
Thinking the sloop might be in this direction, I gazed steadily towards it whenever my head lifted to the swell, and presently, to my intense joy, I saw, not the sloop, but the green foliage and sandy beach of the Key less than quarter of a mile away.
Somehow the sight of the island caused me to become suddenly terrified by the thought of sharks—to which previously I had not given the least thought—and, while I am not an expert swimmer, I made record time towards the shore.
As I reached the shoal water a huge, curling breaker seized me and rushed me far up the beach, where, exhausted by my struggles and excitement, I had barely strength left to dig my hands and feet into the sand and hold myself from being drawn back as the wave receded. As the water left me, I half rose to my feet and stumbled forward to the edge of the coarse grass and brush, where I dropped to the ground exhausted and lost consciousness.
Night was well advanced when I awoke, and I looked up into a velvet sky studded with myriads of brilliant stars, while the full moon, shining with tropic brightness, cast a soft light over beach, foliage, and sea.
I was ravenously hungry and parched with thirst and for a few moments lay quiet, trying to collect my thoughts. Rising, I looked about and, noticing some jutting, flat-topped rocks a short distance away, I hurried to them, in the hope that the recent downpour might have left pools of water on their surface. In this I was not disappointed and, after a few minutes' search, I found several little puddles containing a few pints of fresh water. This I found most refreshing, for, while it was lukewarm from the heat of the rocks, yet it partially quenched my thirst and I was thankful indeed to have found it before the hot morning sun had dried the precious store.
I was still famished and, as I remembered that from the sloop we had noted a number of cocoa palms on the island, I looked about for these. They were not numerous and were scattered along the beach near where I had first come ashore. The moonlight was not sufficiently brilliant to enable me to distinguish nuts on the trees and, disliking to climb in my wearied condition,—unless sure of nuts, —I sought eagerly among the trash beneath in the expectation that the squall would have cast some nuts to the earth. After some time I found a spathe bearing several green nuts, and in a few moments I had opened the ends with my knife and was eagerly drinking the cool water and devouring the rich, jelly-like meat.
Now that my most pressing needs were satisfied, I realised what a precarious position I was in. Food I could certainly obtain, for cocoanuts, sea birds and their eggs, and fish were, I knew, to be had, while doubtless sea-turtles and land-crabs abounded on the island.
I knew that no fresh water occurred on the Key, and the Captain of the sloop had carried a plentiful supply in kegs, which we planned to store for use during our stay.
My first care, then, must be to conserve the small quantity of water on the ledge, and for this purpose I considered the empty nut shells the best means at hand.
With this end in view, I returned to the rock pools and, by carefully dipping up all the water by means of a broad leaf held in the manner of a spoon or ladle, I found that the water almost filled three of the nuts, and these I carefully covered with leaves and placed upright in the sandy soil in the shadow of the ledge.
I now felt excessively sleepy and, realising the uselessness of trying to explore my island by moonlight, I curled up on the warm sand and slept soundly until the bright morning sun aroused me.
By daylight I found the cocoanut trees were loaded with nuts, and my anxieties on this score were set at rest. After a breakfast of cocoanuts, I looked along the beach for turtle tracks. None were visible, but in this I was not at all surprised or disappointed, for I well knew that the breeding season for these creatures had not arrived and that only by mere chance would a turtle visit the island at this time.
I decided to explore the Key thoroughly the first thing, for I wished to assure myself of just what my resources were and, moreover, I was very anxious to locate the breeding grounds of the sea-birds which flew overhead or rested on the water near the beach.
On the side where I had landed there was a long, broad, and high beach of white, coral sand curving out of sight in one direction and ending in a low promontory of ragged, coral-rock at the other. A few yards out from these rocks, and standing by itself in the sea, was a flat-topped, undercut mass of coral-rock shaped somewhat like a huge turtle and bearing on its back a miniature jungle of trees, vines, and creepers. Inland, the island appeared to be a mass of tangled, tropical verdure, while along the upper edge of the beach grew the ragged row of cocoanut palms and many sea-grape trees.
After a moment's hesitation I decided to travel around the island eastward, or towards the rocky point, which I named the "Tanks," while I mentally decided on "Turtle Rock" as a fitting name for the tiny islet off the point. In starting towards the rocks I was governed mainly by the thought that travelling would be most difficult in that direction and that by the time I had circled the island I should be very glad of a smooth beach for my return; for somehow I never doubted I would return to the spot where I landed, which already seemed to have a familiar, home-like feeling.
Thinking that I might require water during my explorations, I selected a large, green cocoanut and, carrying this by the tough stem, I started forth on my tramp.
I found it impossible to follow the shore beyond the rocks, for their outward face ran sheer into deep water, but I was pleased to note that in the dark-green shadow, cast by their precipitous sides, large numbers of snappers and squirrel-fish could be seen swimming about, while from a crevice in the coral I saw the long antenna; of a gigantic lobster protruding.
Climbing the sides of the ragged coral was most difficult, so I hunted about for a passage in the jungle at the rear. The brush, vines, and weeds had grown into a closely matted thicket, but after some search I found a small, tunnel-like opening and, worming my way through this, I came upon a little clearing, an acre or so in extent, which had at some previous time been under cultivation. Several lime and orange trees grew here and, although the fruits upon them were small and few in number, there were numerous buds and flowers, and I felt sure that with a little pruning and clearing away of the vines the trees would bear abundantly and prove a most useful and welcome asset.
Turning again towards the sea, I pressed my way through thick shrubs and thorny brush until I came out upon the upper edge of the rock ridge, some forty feet above the sea. The rocks here were bare of vegetation, save for a few large trees growing in crevices and with their branches draped in gray Spanish moss. This bare, rocky ridge made an easy pathway and I rapidly made my way along the natural causeway, gradually rising higher and higher above the sea until I reached a height of at least sixty feet.
At this point the outer edge of the cliff rose abruptly, like a rampart, for some six feet above the pathway and leaning upon this to look seaward I was wonderfully surprised to note that it had been cut by hand. The square, smooth edges and corners left no doubt of this and, searching further, I soon found that the wall was in reality a miniature fortress, for several oblong slots and round holes pierced it at intervals and were most assuredly designed as loopholes. I then recollected that some of the stories told me of the Key included tales of buried treasure and accounts of the buccaneers and pirates who at one time made the place their stronghold.
Buried treasure or pirates' forts had little interest for me, however, but I at once realised what an excellent lookout point this fort afforded and I resolved to place a signal upon it at once, for I could not know at what hour some vessel might approach within sight.
I soon found a stout, straight sapling for a staff and, after consideration, decided that a portion of my shirt could best be spared as a flag, for my clothing consisted of a single white-duck suit, which I knew would last but a short time under the best of care.
I had some trouble in making my "flag" fast to the pole, but at last succeeded, by using some fine, hanging "liana" vines and, binding the corners firmly to the staff with these, I raised my banner and was gratified at the way it stood out in the breeze and the fine showing it made against the dark background of foliage.
Beyond the fort, or "signal hill," as I called this spot, the path descended rapidly to a second small beach shut in at either end by rough, coral ledges which jutted into the sea and extended in a series of low reefs in a semicircle from one point to the other, thus forming a little enclosed bay, or lagoon, several hundred yards in diameter.
Against the outer barrier the sea thundered and burst, but within the lagoon the water was calm and smooth, and through its clear depths the white, sandy bottom was easily seen, with here and there huge "sea-puddings " resting on the sand, while numerous schools of brilliantly hued fish darted about. Altogether this lagoon was a most attractive spot, and later proved an ideal bathing-place.
Beyond the lagoon I scrambled over inconceivably sharp and ragged rocks to a sandy, wind-swept hill, or dune, covered with coarse, brown grass and ending in a low beach of hard-packed sand and rotten coral-limestone.
As I pushed through the grass "soldier crabs" scuttled off and scores of graceful terns rose and flew about my head, screeching at my intrusion. Feeling sure that their nests were hidden in the grass, I searched about and presently discovered the first nest by stepping squarely upon it. The two eggs it contained were smashed to bits, but the accident proved the eggs to be fresh and, by getting on hands and knees and looking carefully, I soon obtained several eggs, which so closely resembled the sand in colour and markings as to be nearly invisible.
Not wishing to frighten the birds more than possible, or cause them to desert their breeding ground, I retreated to the beach with the eggs. Knocking off the ends, I found the eggs quite fresh and, although they had rather a fishy taste, they were really very good and did much to relieve my hunger.
I was of course obliged to eat the eggs raw, for, while matches had been in my pocket when I left the sloop, my ducking had ruined them beyond help and my mind was continually employed in trying to devise ways and means of obtaining fire just as soon as I finished my exploring trip.
Finishing the last egg, and satisfying my thirst by a drink from the cocoanut, I resumed my tramp. I had no hat and the sun had now risen high enough to make it uncomfortably hot, but no material was at hand with which to fashion a head covering and I was forced to content myself with dipping my hair in the salt water and covering it with my duck coat.
Beyond the sand dune, or "egg hill," I rounded a low, flat point and was at once assailed by thousands of sea birds which rose from a shallow inlet, or bay, bordered on the further side by several low, grassy islets, on which huge candelabra cacti grew in profusion.
From the half-bare mud flats of the bay great brown Pelicans, white and black Booby Ganets, Koddys, Terns, Gulls, and Tropic Birds rose in vast numbers and circled and soared about, screeching and squawking, but soon began to settle on the feeding grounds again.
As these birds arose I noticed large numbers also flying and circling about the islets offshore. I judged that in all probability these barren spots were their breeding ground and had no doubt that I could easily wade over the flats to reach them.
I was now feeling very tired and hot and decided to leave this for another trip and return to my landing-place as soon as I could.
Pushing forward along the shore of the flat, I encountered rising and rocky ground and was again obliged to struggle through the jungle and make a detour around the cliffs. This was hard, hot work and I was almost exhausted when I found I had reached the highest point and was glad indeed to find myself once more able to reach the sandy shore and walk in comparative comfort.
At one point on this beach a little, tidal stream flowed out from a small, swampy spot in the brush. This swamp was dark with close-growing mangrove trees, their aerial roots descending to the shallow water and mud and their oddly shaped branches and knees sprawling in a veritable labyrinth across the swamp.
On the roots and knees, exposed by the falling tide, were masses of large, mangrove oysters, and bright-coloured crabs scuttled here and there among the roots. I commenced to gather my pockets full of oysters and as I entered the swamp I disturbed a large number of White Ibis and numerous herons from their roosting-places among the foliage. A few large, clumsy nests of these birds were visible, but I had no need to climb to them in search of eggs, for the scrawny necks and gaping beaks of the young nestlings appeared above the edges of each.
With a coat-load of oysters I regained the beach and, rounding the point, found myself unexpectedly back at my starting-point. Here I was glad indeed to throw myself on the sand in the shade of the palms and regale myself with oysters and cocoanuts.
FACING MY FUTURE
A siesta in the heat of the day did much to refresh me, and I then took stock of my possessions and resources. My clothing, as I have already stated, consisted solely of a white-duck suit, a. cambric shirt—minus a large portion used as a signal flag,—a cotton handkerchief, underclothing, socks, and a pair of light, rubber-soled, canvas shoes. A search of my pockets revealed a heavy jack-knife, some silver coins, a few British pennies and half-pennies, a handful of useless, water-soaked matches; a briarwood pipe and some tobacco; my watch and a pocketbook containing a few $5 Colonial Bank notes.
Evidently most of this material was of little use and the utmost conservation was essential and, as I considered the matter, I idly wound the watch, which had long since stopped. Much to my surprise, it ticked away merrily, and I at once set the hands at three o'clock, by guesswork, and this act led me to planning a method of maintaining some sort of record of time.
After several plans I decided to cut thirty-one sticks of equal size and carve a number upon each: twelve larger sticks were then prepared with the name of a month on each, while seven more were lettered to represent weekdays. When all these were ready I selected a dry crevice in the rocks and in this placed the stick marked April, accompanied by the first five of the numbered sticks and one marked for Wednesday. This enabled me to keep track of the month, date, and day of the week very easily, for with each succeeding day I had but to add the stick of the next number and letter and at the close of each month replace the month stick with the next one and start over again.
This simple matter kept me occupied for some hours and by the time the work was completed I was quite ready for more food. After consuming the balance of my oysters, some more cocoanut, and a sip of water, I began to realise what an unsatisfactory diet raw food afforded.
Despite my plight and hunger, I slept fairly well that night and was up at dawn with but two thoughts: the first, food; the other, fire.
In the fresh, cool morning a trip to the terns' nests was not at all difficult and the fresh eggs were a welcome change from the oysters and nuts. The day was still young when I set to work to experiment in making fire, but before attempting this I decided to cache, or store, safely all the possessions I could spare from my person, for, while few of the things were of any apparent use, yet I felt that sooner or later they might come in very handy. Selecting a clean cocoanut shell, I placed within it my coins, pocket-book, pipe and tobacco, watch, handkerchief, and lastly my shoelaces and suspenders, and hung the whole on a bush some distance from the ground and well beyond the reach of rats or crabs. A strip of dry cocoanut leaf answered for a belt and wisps of tough beach grass braided together served for shoe-lacings.
Providing myself with a green cocoanut and my knife, I started towards the interior of the island in search of materials with which to attempt my fire building. I had a fairly good idea of how savages obtained fire, by rubbing sticks together, and also was familiar with the use of a bow-drill for the same purpose. Flint, or hard rock of any sort, with which to strike fire was, I knew, out of the question on a coral island. It was heart-breaking work forcing and cutting my way through the jungle beyond the little clearing, but as I pushed along I kept careful note of the various trees, plants, and vines that formed the tangle of vegetation, for my long residence in the West Indies had taught me the great value of many local plants and I was anxious to learn as much as possible of my island's flora.
Lianas, air plants, palmettos, and many all but useless things grew in great profusion, but I saw nothing in the way of the dry, soft sticks for which I sought. Several straight-stalked Trumpet trees attracted my attention, for their broad palmate leaves were readily seen for a long distance, and I made a mental note of them, thinking that doubtless I could utilise their soft, light wood for some purpose in the future.
At one spot I found a fallen, hardwood tree and from this I cut several of the driest branches, although I knew perfectly well that soft, resinous wood was what I required. After half an hour of hard travelling I had penetrated the most difficult portion of the jungle and found itself in a more open wood, or forest, composed of large trees and very little underbrush, save small palms and palmettos.
The ground was soft and damp, deep in vegetable mould, and the cool shade proved most grateful. The trees were of various kinds; among them several bearing pear-shaped, purple fruits known to West Indians as “Mang" and which form a great part of the diet of wild pigeons and parrots, but are unfit for human food.
I searched thoroughly for dry wood in every likely spot, but the shade was so heavy that little dry material could be found. At last, on a higher portion of the land, I discovered a spot where a number of trees had been blown over, and here—the sunlight having a chance to penetrate—I found a few pieces of very dry branches which I decided might serve my purpose. When these were gathered I had bits of dry wood from various species of trees and thought it time to try my hand at making fire.
Starting in the direction of the beach, I hurried forward in as nearly a direct line as possible. I was passing over a little knoll when, without warning, the earth dropped from beneath me and I fell heavily for several feet, landing on all fours in a foot or more of slimy, green water and muck.
I was not injured, but was horribly startled and for several minutes shook and panted like a winded animal. As I became calmer I looked about and found I was standing in a rectangular stone vault some ten feet square and eight feet deep. The sides were built of rock and mortar and across the top a mass of branches and trash had fallen and had accumulated rubbish through years past until the opening had become completely hidden and indistinguishable from the surrounding ground. Through this crust I had broken, and with great difficulty I managed to work my way up the slimy sides by the aid of roots, vines, and crevices.
My precious stock of dry sticks was thoroughly soaked in mud and water and I was forced to retrace my steps to obtain a new supply. I was tired, hungry, and discouraged and was mentally raving at such bad luck when an idea occurred to me. If the vault held water, it must be water-tight and, if cleaned out and opened to the light, it might prove of the utmost value as a reservoir for collecting fresh water when the rainy season arrived, provided I was doomed to remain marooned upon the island until then.
The work of cleaning it out would, I knew, be long and tedious and I decided to do nothing further regarding it until more pressing matters were attended to.
Such reflections cheered me not a little and, after gathering a new supply of wood, I again started shoreward, being careful this time to sound each suspicious-looking spot with a stick before treading on it.
Arriving at the beach without further adventure and selecting what I considered likely sticks, I rubbed them in every possible manner, but in vain. I next went to great trouble in making a bow and spindle, with which I worked diligently and patiently for an hour, but without result, for, while charred sawdust, and smoke came readily, no spark or flame could be induced by my utmost exertions. It was very evident that the wood I used was unsuited to my needs and, thoroughly disheartened, I gave up the attempt and, while lunching on my miserable diet of raw eggs, oysters, and nuts, turned the matter over and over in my mind and racked my brains to devise some method of obtaining fire.
A burning glass occurred to me and, after considerable hesitation, I removed the crystal of my watch, filled it with water, and attempted to ignite some shredded, dried moss and sawdust with the affair. The light and heat were not visibly increased by this impromptu lens, but I had little hope of success, for I well know that a lens convex on both sides was the sort I required.
After some time fruitlessly spent thus I gave up in disgust and, replacing the crystal in my watch, I tried to turn my thoughts to other channels. I greatly felt the need of a hat and, after looking about, decided to try plaiting a palm-leaf affair from the cocoanut leaves. I had often watched the natives at such work and now had little trouble in making a broad, rough object that would serve as a shade until something better could be devised. Plaiting the hat led me to thoughts of other things that it would be possible to make in a similar manner, and among these I thought of the huge plaited and woven fish-traps used throughout the islands. Raw fish, I imagined, would be quite repulsive, until I was far hungrier than at present, but no doubt they could be salted and dried and made palatable. I felt the importance of keeping hands and mind busy and immediately started braiding and weaving the sides for a small-sized trap, which I completed before dark. I decided to set this early in the morning and for bait could think of nothing better than the flesh of some bird. The terns could he readily caught on their nests at night, but they would be very hard to find among the grass, and it was some little time before it occurred to me to rob one of the Ibis nests of its young.
This took but a short time the following morning, and then securing a supply of long, tough vines, I carried my rough trap along the beach to the deep spot between Turtle Rock and the Tank rocks and, weighting it with coral rock, lowered it into the sea. I found that about four fathoms of line were required before the trap rested on the bottom and, securing the end of my vine rope to the shore rocks, I left it to await results, feeling almost as much interest and excitement as a child over the outcome of this undertaking.
I now felt that some provision for more satisfactory food must be made, for while I had not given up hope of a speedy rescue, yet I thought it only wise to prepare for a long period on the Key. I often thought over my case and weighed the chances for and against succour, but could come to no conclusion at all satisfactory and encouraging.
If the sloop remained afloat after the squall, I had no doubt the Captain would have worked back to the larger islands and reported my loss, but he would have every reason to consider me drowned and thus no search would be made. On the other hand, if the sloop was sunk, there was a bare chance that Jean's friends might sail to the Key when he failed to return after the month's time we planned to stay here. There was sight hope of this, however, for I fully appreciated the West Indians' easy-going ways and knew that, if the sloop never returned, they would be most likely to consider it lost with all hands and so save themselves the trouble of investigation.
Aside from these slim chances, I had little hope of immediate relief, for while the island was not very distant from inhabited land, yet it was far beyond the range of fishing boats and miles out of the course of passing ships or steamers.
The question of food—had I possessed the ability to make fire—would have caused me little worry, for with the fish and birds, the oysters and crabs, the lobsters and eggs, a varied diet could be maintained throughout the year. No doubt a starving man would have been glad of raw bird meat and fish, but, although my means were scanty, I was by no means in a starving condition and would have gone on a diet of cocoanuts and raw oysters indefinitely rather than devour raw birds and fish.*
The author has been assured by Mr. Jack London that raw fish, if freshly caught, are excellent eating and are even more palatable than when cooked. This is not a generally known fact however, and it is a hard matter for the average man to overcome his repugnance sufficiently to test the edible qualities of uncooked or uncured fish.
Water also was now becoming a serious consideration and, after setting my fish trap, such thoughts kept me worried for hours. I had no excess strength to spare, but nevertheless I considered it essential to make an effort to clean out the vault in the woods at once, in order to catch the first rain that might fall. With this idea I made my way through the jungle to the spot and, after several hours of hard work, succeeded in clearing away the brush and trash from the top, but the mass of rotten water at the bottom proved a harder proposition by far. The only way I could devise was to bail it out by hand, but as the rim was fully two feet above my head—as I stood on the bottom— this work, with only cocoanut shells for dippers, would I felt be impossible. The decision to abandon the attempt was most discouraging, after so much time and labour spent in clearing away the trash, and the matter could not be dismissed from my mind. Far into the night I lay awake, gazing at the stars and trying to invent some means of cleaning out the cistern, which I now felt had been constructed by the old buccaneers for the very purpose I wished to use it. Towards midnight the stars became overcast and I fell asleep, only to be roused a few hours later by a pouring rain.
Instantly I was wide-awake and, hastily gathering all the empty nut shells, I hurried to the rocks, where I scooped the water into the shells as fast as it accumulated in the hollows of the stone. The downpour continued for some time and I succeeded in filling a dozen of the cocoanut shells before it ceased. I felt that, if showers fell at such frequent intervals in the future, I had no need to worry over water and, as the rainy season was approaching, I had little doubt that the rains would become more and more frequent and of longer duration.
MORNING broke clear and bright and I hurried to my fish trap and eagerly hauled it to the surface. I was mightily pleased to see that my trap was an immense success, for, flopping about on its plaited bottom, were a dozen or more fine fish, with several crabs and a good-sized lobster among them. The lobster and crabs were useless, save as bait, but the fish I removed and, after cleaning and splitting them, I hung them in a cool, shady spot to dry. Later I found this method a failure, for the fish rotted and moulded as fast as I hung them out. I soon learned to salt the fish before drying and prepared the salt by evaporating sea water. I did this at first in hollows of the rocks, but found this was productive of very little salt, and to obtain the article in large quantities I prepared a regular "salt pan" near the mangrove swamp. This "pan" was merely a shallow, circular depression scraped in the sand with a channel leading to the swamp's inlet. At high water the tide flowed into the depression and when full of sea water I closed the channel, thus enclosing the water, which I allowed to remain until evaporated. It must not be supposed that I succeeded in even this simple matter without trouble. My first attempts were failures, for the water ran off through the sand before evaporation set in and I was obliged to try many times before I hit on lining the interior of my pan with the tenacious mud from the flats near the cactus islands.
The first salt I prepared proved very dirty and bitter and only after many trials did I discover that the bitter chemicals could be removed, along with the adhering mud, by placing the salt in small piles on the rocks, where it was washed by the rain and again dried.
All these little matters occupied me for many days, and in the meantime I had thoroughly explored the interior of the island and found it to be about half a mile square, evenly wooded, and inhabited only by numerous crabs, snails, wood rats, and many species of land birds. I had also devoted some time to gardening and had cleaned up the little clearing, had pruned the fruit trees, and had found a few yam and sweet potato vines struggling for existence among the grass and weeds. These were carefully weeded and replanted and were now doing well. I had also found dried salt fish edible and had a large stock on hand.
My shoes had now quite given out and I was obliged to go barefoot along the shores or to protect my feet with rude sandals of bark when in the woods. My clothing was ragged and still serviceable.
A month had passed since my arrival, when I found the tracks of my first turtle one morning and, after a brief search, I uncovered the nest containing over one hundred eggs.
These were most acceptable, for the terns and other sea birds had long since raised their young and most of them had left for other localities. The next few nights more turtles visited the island and I captured several.
The flesh of the turtles was salted and dried, like the fish, while the large upper shells were carefully cleaned and retained as receptacles for water.
Noticing the oil that dripped from the green turtle fat, I decided to collect some, as I felt that oil of this sort would be comforting on the various sores and cuts with which I was constantly afflicted through lack of proper shoes. To obtain the oil I gathered a quantity of fat and hung it in the sun, with an empty cocoanut shell beneath, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing the clear oil drip steadily into the shell.
The turtles also furnished excellent threads and cords in the form of tough sinews of their flippers and backs and these were all carefully saved.
The rainy season now showed its proximity by the almost daily showers and I felt more and more in need of fire and also longed for a hut or shelter of some sort. Up to this time a flimsy thatched "ajupa," or "lean-to," had been my only shelter and protection, and this would prove of little value against a severe squall or heavy rain.
It was while considering these two most important matters that by accident I stumbled upon a most remarkable discovery, which changed the entire tenor of my life and made the Key a perfect Paradise for me in comparison to what it had been.
I had set forth in quest of oysters—for, oddly enough, I still made my camp on the spot where I first landed—when, upon rounding the end of the Key, I noticed a large, shining object washing back and forth at the edge of the waves.
I hurried forward to inspect the strange thing and found it to be an enormous Tuna, or Horse Mackerel, weighing at least two hundred pounds. The fish was quite fresh and his bright sides and immense eyes were as plump and clear as in life. Dragging him onto the beach, I stood admiring him and considering to what use I could put this great mass of fish. I was particularly attracted by the creature's eyes, with their clear, round pupils, and stooping to examine them more closely, a novel and surprising idea occurred to me. Would not these perfect, crystalline lenses serve as a burning glass?
With feverish haste, but the utmost care, I immediately proceeded to dissect out the two eyes and, wrapping them carefully in wet seaweed, I quickly retraced my steps to camp, filled with anxiety and impatience to try this new experiment.
Gathering a few handfuls of the driest cocoanut fibre, a quantity of dried Spanish moss, and the dead sticks with which I had so often tried to obtain fire by friction, I placed them close at hand. Shredding up the driest of the material, I piled it in a little hill on a bit of bark and, taking one of the Tuna eyes, I held it above the tinder and towards the sun. Instantly I saw that the lens focussed the rays into a dazzling spot and carefully I raised and lowered the eye until a spot of concentrated light of pin-point size rested upon the pile of tinder.
Breathlessly I waited and in an incredibly short space of time smoke arose from the pile and rapidly increased, then the spot began to flicker, a tiny blaze sprang up, and, dropping the eye, I placed tiny bits of fibre, sticks, and bark upon the little flame and, carefully blowing upon it, in a few moments a real fire was blazing cheerfully before me.
I danced and yelled with delight: I was all but delirious. Here, at last, was success and fire—precious fire—was mine after weeks and weeks of worry and heart-breaking effort.
I immediately realised the necessity of keeping my fire burning, for certainly I could not count upon finding a dead Tuna whenever I wished and I had no mind to risk being caught fireless again. Piling sticks and bark upon the flames, I soon had a roaring fire and set to work at once to cook some fish and oysters.
Never had food tasted so good as this first half-cooked meal after weeks of a raw diet. The mere odour of sizzling, broiling fish and roasting oysters was ravishing and I burned my mouth and throat horribly in my impatience to try the cooked viands.
While employed in this pleasant manner I was busily planning how I could best keep my fire burning continuously. It was out of the question to even try to keep an ordinary wood fire—or even hot coals—for it would require incessant care and watchfulness and would be quenched at the first shower. I was greatly puzzled and troubled for some time, but at last hit upon a plan: I would make oil lamps and keep these steadily burning in wind and rain-proof shelters.
Having decided upon my line of action, I set out to accomplish it without delay and, looking about for materials, I chanced to glance at the nut shell containing my various treasures. I then remembered my pipe and tobacco and was soon enjoying the untold luxury of smoking, after abstaining for so many weeks.
Happily puffing away at my pipe, my appetite fully satisfied for the first time since my arrival, and with cheering thoughts of the enjoyable meals to come, I set about preparing my perpetual lamps.
I first selected a number of dry cocoanut shells and filled each about two-thirds full of turtle oil. I then gathered a quantity of dry moss and, taking the best of it, twisted it into fine cords, which I braided closely together. These braids I then cut into pieces ten or twelve inches long. My next step was to secure some dried stems of Trumpet-trees and from the pithy wood of these I cut a number of discs about two inches in diameter. In the centre of each disc I bored a small hole, through which I thrust the braided lengths of moss. These, placed in the shells of oil, formed wicks, supported by the light pieces of wood, which floating on the oil, kept the wick well above its surface, while the edge of the shell protected the whole from draughts of wind or air.
I had not the least doubt of the success of these lamps and was not disappointed in my expectations, for the first one I tried burned brightly and steadily with a brilliant, clear flame. One after another the lamps were finished and lit, and I now had little fear of being again deprived of fire.
I felt that no ordinary breeze would blow out these lamps, but I also knew that a sudden squall, or shower, might extinguish them all if not further protected. I, therefore, commenced a thorough search for suitable spots in which to place them where they would be fully protected from the elements.
One I placed in a tiny cave, or crevice, among the rocks; another was hidden in the hollow of a dead Trumpet-tree; another was placed beneath a shelter formed of a turtle shell propped on lumps of coral rock, while the last was fitted with a hood, or cover, of a larger nut shell fastened above it with an air, or draft, space between the two.
Having thus provided for any contingency, I found myself again hungry and, hauling my fish trap, I soon had a fine mess of fish, a splendid lobster, and a number of oysters broiling on the coals. This meal proved fully as satisfying and savory as the first, and I cannot describe the satisfaction and happiness I felt as I ate the cooked flesh and realised that henceforth I should not be deprived of wholesome, cooked food. What comfort and plenty was now mine: foodstuffs, which hitherto had been useless, were now capable of being transformed into delicious and wholesome meals. The yams, which now had grown to fairly good size, the young leaf buds of the palm trees, the crabs and lobsters, the wild yucca roots, and many other articles would make a most varied and satisfying bill of fare.
I BUILD A HOUSE
ONLY a suitable dwelling was now needed to make my castaway life not only bearable, but quite comfortable.
A wooden, or log, house was, I knew, impracticable, for to cut the logs or trees with only a pocket knife would be the work of many weeks, or even months, not to mention the liability of breaking the knife or wearing it out.
To be sure, I might burn off the trees and afterwards cut them up by the same process, but this I also knew would require a long time to accomplish, and meanwhile the rainy season would have arrived. Moreover, such a building would last but a short time, owing to the ravages of wood-ants and in a severe storm or hurricane would be of little protection, if merely lashed together—the only means of fastening at my command.
A stone house would answer, but to obtain a sufficient number of large stones and carry them to one spot would require an amount of labour beyond the power of one man to accomplish.
Thinking over this matter and considering it from every point of view, I raked apart the coals of my fire to light my pipe and inadvertently pushed my wooden poker against a bit of rock. Much to my surprise, it at once crumbled to bits and I realised that I had hit upon the solution to my house problem. The island was a mass of coral limestone and I had only to burn this to lime, form it into mortar or concrete, and build my house easily.
To think was to act and I began piling brush, sticks, and dead branches against the side of a ledge in a sheltered spot a hundred yards inland and near the abandoned water tank.
This was a situation I had long since chosen as a dwelling site, for it was thoroughly sheltered by large trees, was centrally located and convenient to my various provision grounds and to the signal hill, and moreover was on a rising knoll which would be dry even in the rainiest weather.
I had already travelled back and forth so many times across the island that a number of paths had been worn, and with a little additional cutting and clearing a good open road could be made to the beach.
My pile of brush and trash complete, I brought one of the lamps to the spot and soon the mass was a roaring fire, with its hot flames licking up the side of the ledge for several feet.
The limestone rapidly cracked and flaked off, exposing the fresh, white surface beneath, and all through the day I kept the fire roaring.
The following morning I found the fire dead and cold, and by means of an improvised broom of cocoanut leaves I raked and brushed away the ashes and gathered my largest turtle shell full of lime.
Only stopping to eat and attend to my fish trap and replenish the oil in my lamps, I kept the fire going brightly for several days and soon had a great accumulation of lime of excellent quality. I now thought it time to test the building properties of my material and attempted mixing it with salt water and sand. It slaked well and mixed up in a most satisfying way and, pleased at the result, I placed a number of stones in the form of a low wall and set them in the fresh mortar. By the time this was accomplished it was very late and I left further operations for another day.
The next morning I hurried to my foundation, expecting to find the rocks firmly set in their bed of lime. Imagine my chagrin on discovering that the mortar was dry and powdery and crumbled at a touch. Although greatly cast down at this, I decided that it must be due to some fault in mixing, for I was sure the lime itself was of good quality.
Determined to experiment until I hit upon the proper proportions, I commenced cleaning out the turtle shell in which the mortar had been mixed the previous day. As I scraped the crumbling material from the shell I noticed that the lime adhering to it along the edges and back was exceedingly hard and firm and resisted all efforts to dislodge it. This seemed quite strange and unaccountable, until I remembered stories of some early castaways in Bermuda who used lime and turtle blood for cement to caulk a boat.
Evidently the blood and grease in the shell had been softened by the water mixed with my lime and had formed the hard, cementlike substance.
Here, then, was an easy way out of my difficulty, for if blood and grease formed a cement with lime I had all the materials readily at my disposal.
Turtles still came to the Key nightly to deposit their eggs, and while previously I had caught only enough to supply me with meat, yet I was sure that I could catch a score or more with little effort.
The blood from even this number would hardly suffice to mix enough cement with which to construct a house, and I spent some time cudgelling my brains to find some plan by which I could turn my timely discovery to advantage.
Finally I decided to build the walls of logs, rocks, and branches, forming a sort of wattled construction, and strengthen and reinforce the whole by cement.
Working along these lines, I spent the day in gathering and placing the materials, and by nightfall had a foundation two feet in height and six by eight feet square. That evening I walked about the beaches searching for turtle and before daylight I had three fine, big specimens safely on their backs in the shade and covered over with palm leaves and seaweed. I knew that, if freshly covered each day, that the creatures would live for several weeks, and, as I had no method of preserving the blood, I decided to keep them alive and kill them as needed.
The blood and grease from one of the creatures was carefully gathered in nut shells and, with some fear of failure, I mixed it with a quantity of lime. I found the mass far too sticky and thick to mix thoroughly and I was obliged to thin it out with water. I had some doubts as to the practicability of this, but, judging from the action of the dried blood on the lime previously mixed, I decided that only a very small quantity of blood was required to make durable cement.
By the time the lime and blood had been thinned to a fair, mortar-like consistency, I had obtained two shells full and spent several busy hours of hard, hot work plastering it over the low wall of branches and stones I had erected.
I was thoroughly fatigued by the time I had used up the cement and, in fact, it was by far the hardest day's work I had undertaken since being cast away. I thought a rest well earned and spent the afternoon in the shade of the trees, but I was by no means idle, for my clothing was now worn to mere rags and repeated patching and tying was of little avail and constant repairing was necessary.
My rude bark sandals had long since been replaced by low, moccasin-like slippers, plaited from strips of palm leaves, and while these lasted but a short time, yet I had little difficulty in making new ones as I needed them.
This afternoon I examined my clothing over and over again, trying to think up some substitute, for, although I would not suffer from cold, even if naked, the brush and thorns would tear my skin and flesh cruelly, while with the arrival of the rainy season some manner of protection would be necessary from the torrential rains and heavy winds.
I finally concluded that plaited cocoanut fibre, or leaves, would have to serve for my covering, but how to make this material into anything resembling clothes was a problem quite beyond me. I could readily plait fibre, or leaves, into straight, or square, or even round, mats and had already spent many hours in weaving rude baskets, hats, and the shoes mentioned.
All these things were merely tied or lashed, together and I could devise no other means of making the plaited strips into garments. While thinking over this matter and meanwhile braiding some palm leaves together, my eye chanced to light on a group of the wild Yuccas, or "Spanish Bayonets," growing near at hand. The sharp spines at the ends of the leaves of this plant had often wounded me severely and the thought crossed my mind that these thorns might be utilised as pins to fasten clothing together.
To satisfy myself I cut one of the thick, fleshy leaves and attempted to break off the spine. It was firmly attached to the leaf, but after some effort I managed to tear it from the pulp and found that it bore a number of long fibres fastened to its base. These were so strong and tough that they resisted all my strength and I was about to cut them free from the thorn when their resemblance to a threaded needle burst upon me. Here again I had come, by the merest chance, upon one of the most useful of Nature's provisions for man's needs, for the terminal spine of the Yucca—with the leaf fibres adhering—forms as perfect a needle and thread as one could wish for.
I found that by its use I could easily stitch leaves, plaits, or even thin bark and I was soon busy forming a sort of rough suit from plaited leaves.
Darkness came on while still occupied at this task and it was with deep regret that I was compelled to lay it aside.
The morning found me hurrying to my cemented wall, and I was mightily pleased to find that the cement had set to rocky hardness and that protruding sticks and branches could not be dislodged or broken from the mass.
As soon as breakfast was finished I set to work with a will to build a second tier of branches and cement, and by nightfall had erected a wall breast-high completely around the enclosed rectangular space.
Much to my chagrin, a heavy rain set in at sundown and it poured off and on all night. I felt certain that my day's work would be ruined and the cement washed away and I spent a miserable night, soaked by the rain, troubled and worried over the loss of my labour and material.
The weather cleared with daybreak and all my shell reservoirs were full and running over with water. I made my way with trepidation to the wall I had formed with so much effort and was ready to shout with joy when I found the cement had hardened perfectly, even though soaked by the rain.
Evidently my cement was perfectly hydraulic in character and I had no further cause to fear rainy days.
My supply of lime and turtle blood was now exhausted and the next few days were spent in alternately gathering building material, burning lime, and searching for turtles at night. These animals had now become scarce and I succeeded in finding less than half a dozen, where formerly as many could have been taken in a few hours.
As my wall was still far from completed and as turtles were so scarce, I determined to use less blood and grease and more water, and in order to discover just how much water I could safely use I spent an entire day mixing small batches of cement with varying quantities of water and blood. The result of this experimental work proved that a very small amount of blood and grease was essential to harden the cement sufficiently for my purposes and I was certain that by thus diluting the material I would be able to finish the walls.
There is no necessity of describing the work in detail, for the following week or ten days was spent in ceaseless work, until at last the walls were built to a height of seven feet, with one wall a foot higher than the others. In the upper edges of the walls I set stout branches, projecting upward for a couple of feet, and to these I lashed sections of Trumpet-tree branches to serve as roof timbers.
The lashings, and all other fastenings, were made of twisted and braided cocoanut fibre which I obtained by rotting the husks in the wet mud of the flats and drying in the sun— a trick familiar to all who have resided long in the Antilles.
To make the lashings even more secure I daubed them over with cement and, having still a few quarts of the material remaining, I painted all exposed timbers with a good coating.
For a roof to my new house I used palm leaves—dipping them in salt water to prevent the ravages of insects—plaiting the edges together and lashing each edge to the timbers to hold them in place. Not thoroughly content with this, I laid layer after layer of the leaves over the roof and bound them down in a mass by strips of the Trumpet-tree wood lashed to the timbers at either side.
The roof completed, I found the dwelling quite cosy, for while the lack of windows made the interior rather dark, yet the roof being placed two feet above the wall-top allowed plenty of ventilation and the projecting eaves prevented rain from beating in and cast quite a wide shelter beyond the walls.
The building was scarcely finished Before the summer rains set in in earnest, and indeed I had been greatly surprised that they had not commenced before, for it was now well into August and, as a rule, the rainy season is well advanced by the middle of June or early in July.
It must not be supposed that it was continually raining during the rainy season—an erroneous idea that many people have in regard to this season in the tropics. In reality the West Indian summer, or rainy season, is merely more rainy than the dry season. The heavy showers seldom last more than a day without clearing and, as a rule, they continue but a few hours, with bright sunshine and clear skies between whiles. It is during this season, however, that severe squalls, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other dangerous disturbances occur, and consequently the rainy season is the time of greatest danger to mariners and dwellers in exposed situations.
MY dwelling was no sooner completed than I began moving in my crude utensils, my various lamps, and a supply of oil and moss; besides a quantity of salted cocoanut leaves, a bundle of fibre, and the shell containing my watch and other civilised possessions. I also stored a turtle shell of lime in one corner of the house and placed clean shells under the eaves to catch the rainwater.
I had been sleeping on moss and leaves in my lean-to, but I now felt the need of some better couch to keep from the damp ground, and soon commenced work on a kind of hammock, or swinging bed. This consisted of a square, or rectangle, of plaited palm leaves, supported by stout cords of braided fibre attached to each corner and fastened to strong posts set in the ground and cemented in place.
This couch was so comfortable and successful that I also made a reclining, or steamer chair, of sticks and palm matting.
A table would have been a great convenience, but I was unable to secure any sort of board for a top. A makeshift affair was at last rigged up by using strips of the broad sheath at the base of the cocoanut flower stalks. These were soaked in water until flexible and then placed in layers beneath heavy stones until dry, when they were quite flat and retained their shape.
A number of these flat pieces were then lashed to a frame of sticks and the table was complete. It was very insecure and primitive and the top was uneven and full of cracks and hollows, but it served my purpose and tickled me immensely.
I soon found that the floor of my house was very damp and cold, and I spent several days cleaning and levelling it, and then gave it a good layer of cement and sea sand. The result was a hard, smooth floor, but the whole structure, being composed of this material, was very damp and chilly at night.
In order to dry it out, I built a good fire in the centre each morning and kept it going most of the day. It made the hut excessively warm, but in the end resulted in a dry house.
A door was formed by hanging mats of plaited palm-leaves on pegs, and I felt that I now possessed a shelter that would serve me at any and all times and would protect me from any squall or storm, that I was likely to encounter.
My readers must not imagine that I was perfectly happy and content with my lot: on the contrary, I often brooded for hours and felt most desolate and lonely when I stopped to realise how slender were the chances of being rescued and that I was very likely doomed to spend several years, or perhaps my life, on the island.
My long experience as an explorer and collector in out-of-the-way places and far from other men prevented me from being as lonesome as many would have been, but keeping continually busy, both in mind and body, I found the best cure for loneliness and "blues." I longed for the sound of a human voice and early fell into the habit of talking to myself, or of addressing the live creatures, as well as inanimate objects, and carrying on long, one-sided conversations with them.
I pined for some sort of companionship and deeply regretted not having caught and tamed some of the sea-fowl before they were able to fly from their nests.
It was, therefore, with great satisfaction that I discovered a nest of young wood rats in a hollow tree and carried the little creatures to my home. I fed and tended the little chaps with the utmost care and found the greatest comfort and happiness in rearing them and watching their growth and increasing intelligence day by day.
In time these rats became fully grown and perfectly tame and, while allowed to run where they chose, they were always ready to answer my call or whistle and would frisk about me like kittens.
Much of the time on rainy days was spent in preparing clothing, for my plaited-leaf suit was stiff and uncomfortable, and by taking considerable time and trouble I designed and constructed a sort of primitive loom, on which I managed to weave a coarse kind of cloth from cocoanut fibre. This material resembled a very poor and rough burlap and when, after several weeks' work, I finished a strip of a few yards I found it most irritating and uncomfortable to my skin. My underclothing was not entirely worn out, however, and I managed after a deal of trouble to patch together the various portions of my civilised clothes into an undersuit and, thus protected, I found I could wear the burlap with some degree of comfort.
Rude and uncouth as was this costume, I was hugely pleased to think I had succeeded m fashioning it by my own efforts from the island's products, and I found it a wonderful protection from the damp and cold winds at night.
My next consideration was for better foot covering, and after many hours' thought I decided to try my hand at tanning leather just as soon as I could procure the skins of birds, turtles, or large fish.
In the meantime I made shoes of burlap and improved my plaited soles by braiding several strands of fibre and sewing the braid in a coil the shape of my foot. These ropelike soles proved a great protection to my feet, but of course were quickly wet through. The sewing of these slippers, as well as my suit, was all done by means of the Yucca needles and thread. This required the preparation of a large number of leaves, and while stripping the pulp of these it occurred to me that this soft, tough, thread-like material could be woven into a far better and softer cloth than the cocoanut burlap. With this idea in mind I spent a long time drying and washing the Yucca fibre until I had a large bundle on hand. I then set to work at my loom and soon found that the fibre furnished a very strong, linen-like cloth, but that owing to the fine character of the strands it took a long time to weave. I was in no hurry, for my other costume was quite serviceable, and I had unlimited time at my disposal and any work that kept me occupied was welcome.
My life had now resolved itself into a regular routine of cooking, eating, weaving, and attending my lamps, and I was constantly planning new occupations or experiments to prevent brooding over my situation.
Among other things I made a new and determined effort to clean out the cistern. This time I lashed a good-sized turtle-shell to a pole and with this big dipper I found I could quite easily bail out the water and muck from the vault. When the contents had been removed as much as possible with the dipper, I jumped into the tank and with nut shells scooped up what remained and emptied it into the turtle-shell. I now returned to the top and lifted out the scoop full of mud and repeated the operation until the vault was quite empty. I next cleared and swept away all loose earth and rubbish from the vicinity of the cistern, and after the first shower leaned out the water that had accumulated.
After doing this several times I found the water quite clean and sweet, and I was confident that before the close of the rainy season I should have a sufficient supply of water to last me indefinitely.
It was now late in October, and no hurricane or squall of severity had visited the Key and I was beginning to think that I should entirely escape those dreaded disturbances.
About this time I began to feel quite weak and unwell, and one morning awoke with a high fever. My head seemed bursting and I was absolutely unable to leave my hammock or cook food, and throughout the day lay helpless, with barely enough strength to reach a shell of water to assuage my burning thirst. I was completely miserable and felt sure that I was fated to die a slow and horrible death, as I lay helpless and alone on the deserted Key. That night was a perfect terror, for I became quite delirious and was constantly battling with huge waves, or being blown hither and thither by hurricanes, while weird demons, in the form of pirates and buccaneers, sought to imprison me in stone vaults alive with crawling things and poisonous reptiles.
At last I fell into a deep sleep, and late in the forenoon awoke feeling clear in mind and much less tortured with fever.
I now decided that my exertions in the old cistern had brought on an attack of malaria and, while I was still very weak, I decided that to preserve my life I must make every attempt to obtain some local remedy before another attack came on.
With much effort I prepared a meal and, having eaten, I set out on my quest for medicinal herbs. Luckily I had some knowledge of West Indian plants and knew how much the natives depended upon them for curing various maladies.
Unfortunately the ingredients used in the concoctions of the negroes are seldom known to strangers, for while the "bush teas," “bush plasters," and "bush salves" are often most efficacious the remedies are compounded with great secrecy.
Certain well-known and widely used herbs form a large proportion of the whole, however, and I had little doubt that I could obtain some of these on my Key.
As malaria and similar diseases are the most prevalent in the Antilles, I concluded that the medicinal plants most commonly used would likely be the ones I required. I particularly had in mind a low-growing plant, with lily-like leaves and bright blue flowers, known as "Zeb-couess," or " Snake-grass," which grew as a weed on many of the islands and which I had seen widely used by the natives. I felt positive that I had seen this plant somewhere on the Key and, as its favorite location is wet or swampy ground, I first visited the low-lying portions of the island near the mangrove swamp.
Here I searched diligently, but without success, and, although I tramped for several hours in all parts of the Key, I failed to see a single sprig of the weed, or any other plant, which as far as I knew possessed any medicinal properties.
I was greatly disheartened and discouraged and, rack my memory as I would, I could not recollect the exact location where I had seen what I sought, and at last started to return to my hut around the lower end of the island past the terns' nesting ground.
Near this point I stopped to rest and noticed a number of coarse, prickly bushes growing just beyond reach of the tide. These shrubs were covered with spiny, brown pods, and upon examining one of these I found it contained several smooth, grayish beans about an inch in diameter. I immediately recognised this as the plant known to West Indians as "Cafe Kanak," a sort of sea-bean and used extensively as a cure for various stomach and intestinal complaints. I had no knowledge that it was a cure for fever, but decided that it would be well to gather a number of the nuts and have them ready for use in case of emergency.
From this spot I walked homewards by way of the signal hill and the little garden clearing. Here I found my plants in great need of attention, for the rainy weather had caused them to grow wonderfully fast and weeds had sprung up to a height of several feet within a few days. I stooped to remove some of these weeds and with the very first handful I plucked a large root of Snake grass, for which I had been wearily searching the entire island!
In a few minutes I gathered a great bunch of the "grass," and noticing some ripe limes on the trees added some of these to my load. I then hurried to the house and at once commenced brewing a strong tea of the Snake grass, to which I added the juice of limes as well as some roasted sea beans. This mixture I drank and then, feeling quite worn out, threw myself into the hammock and instantly fell into a deep and dreamless sleep, from which I did not awaken until late the following afternoon.
I was now extremely hungry and my head had ceased aching, and as rapidly as possible I prepared a good meal, for I now had a number of bearing yam and Taro plants, while my fish trap still yielded a fair supply of fish each day.
A FISHING ADVENTURE
FOR some time I had seen that my supply of turtle oil was getting low and I felt that it was high time to augment my stock, if possible. I had seen no signs of turtles for over a month and could think of no other source of oil, save fishes. To extract any considerable quantity of fish oil from the small creatures caught in the trap would, I felt, be impossible, and I decided that to obtain any of consequence it would be necessary to capture some large fish from deep water.
This at the best would be difficult, for I should be obliged to make a fish hook and line as well as some sort of craft from which to fish offshore. The construction of these did not greatly trouble me, for I had no doubt of my ability to rig up some kind of a hook, while a line of Yucca, or Cocoa, fibre could be easily made. For a raft I had merely to fasten together several of the buoyant Trumpet-tree trunks. I had often seen West Indian boys paddling about on rafts of this character far from shore, for these "Pipiris," as they are called, being non-capsizable and unsinkable, are very seaworthy and safe.
Nevertheless, I had some serious doubts as to the wisdom of venturing on a raft, even for a short distance, for I was still fearful lest a sudden squall, or blow, might come on and carry me away from the island or prevent my returning.
My oil supply was, however, so very scant that I was compelled to trust to but three lamps, and I was constantly haunted by the fear that they would fail and leave me again without fire.
Spurred on by this thought I threw caution aside, and in a short time had cut down and rolled to the shore two of the largest Trumpet-trees.
To fell a "large tree" with a jack-knife for a tool may seem like a difficult, or even impossible, feat to one unfamiliar with the character of the trees. These trees are perhaps the softest and lightest wood known and, in fact, they far more closely resemble pith than wood and are almost as easy to cut as giant cornstalks, while their broad palmate leaves—white on the under side—render them easy to distinguish at a great distance. Having placed the trunks side by side on the beach, I proceeded to lash them together by cross braces of stout branches, and after several hours' work I possessed a catamaran about eight feet long and four feet in width.
From the broad, strong leaf-bases of the palms I made several rough paddles and, fastening a long, liana rope to my raft, I pushed it into the water. Fastening the other end of my painter to a tree on shore— for I had no mind to go adrift—I stepped on the raft and tried my paddling ability.
I found the structure supported my weight and, although it was somewhat ungainly, it could be propelled easily and would unquestionably serve my purpose.
I already had a large quantity of fine cocoanut line on hand, for I had used it constantly ever since I first landed, and the only other requirement was a hook.
Thorns, bones, whittled wood, and various other savage expedients occurred to me, but somehow none of these just suited me and I went to sleep that night with the problem still unsolved.
I waked early, with the thought of the fishhook still uppermost in my mind, and lay for some time staring about the little hut. Presently I noticed the nut shell containing the few things I owned when washed ashore, and like a flash my puzzle was solved. Safely stored in the shell were my suspenders, and the iron buckles could easily be bent into serviceable hooks.
In far less time than it takes to relate, I was removing the buckles from the webbing and was soon busy hammering and bending them into shape, after first softening the steel in the fire.
The two hooks resulting from my blacksmith work were very rough and crude, but they were unmistakably fish-hooks and far superior to anything I could possibly have fashioned from native materials.
I hurried to my fish trap and selected several fish for bait and with a bit of stone for a sinker I boarded my raft, and coiling up the painter, with a stone attached for anchor, I paddled some distance offshore.
Presently I dropped my anchor overboard and was satisfied at seeing over a hundred feet of vine cable run out before it touched bottom. Baiting my hook, I lowered it over the edge of the raft, but when some twenty feet of line had been paid out it began to float and drift about, and in a moment or two I realised that the coral-rock sinker was not heavy enough to sink the dry and buoyant fibre of which my cord was composed.
There was nothing to do but pull up anchor, return to shore, and find heavier rock. Reluctantly I proceeded to do this and, as I paddled the clumsy catamaran shoreward, I realised how handicapped I had been at every turn for want of metal of any sort.
Oh! for a supply of lead, or iron, or steel, or even brass,—yes, even silver or gold, for that matter. At the thought of gold or silver I had an inspiration, for one of these metals was in my possession in the form of the coins I had considered useless. The coins could readily be transformed to a sinker, and as the craft grounded I hurried to the house, secured the handful of coins, and, tying them in a strip of cloth, returned to the raft and paddled out once more.
This time the weight of the money carried the line down rapidly, and after running out some ten or twelve fathoms I sat down to try my luck.
The time passed slowly and minute after minute drifted by without a bite; then suddenly came a sharp jerk and a pull; I jumped to my feet and hauled on the line. At the first tension the cord drew taut and the next instant was whizzing through my hands despite my every effort to hold it. Presently I managed to get a purchase on the edge of the raft and glanced about. Imagine my horror to see the island rapidly moving away from me. The fish I had hooked was towing my craft out to sea!
Instantly I let go the line and, hauling up my now useless anchor, I paddled frantically to shore.
Once safely on the beach I collapsed completely, for the sensation of being carried out to sea by an invisible monster had been altogether too much for my nerves.
I MAKE TWO DISCOVERIES
WHEN I had somewhat recovered my self-possession I began to realise that my attempt at catching large fish was a dismal failure and that the question of oil was as pressing as ever. If a turtle, or even a sea bird, would visit the Key all might be well, but for some time no turtles, or turtle signs, had been seen and no sea birds had ventured within a long distance of the shore.
Worried beyond measure, I made my way to my dwelling and set about my daily tasks, little dreaming that chance would end this trouble as it had so many others.
I had constantly used empty cocoanut shells for boiling water when cooking and, finding I was short of good shells, I gathered some from beneath the trees and started to clean them out. One of the largest and best had considerable meat adhering to the sides and this, having grown hard and tough through drying, was very difficult to remove. To soften the old meat I filled the shell with boiling water and set it to one side. I then went about various other matters and was fully occupied until several hours later when, upon lifting the shell to empty the water, I noticed a quantity of oily matter on its surface. My mind being centred on oil, I became at once interested and examined it more closely. It was certainly oil; greasy to the touch, almost transparent, and practically tasteless. In a moment I realised that I had obtained Cocoa-nut oil by accident and I shouted and danced with happiness, for now fuel for my lamps would never be wanting and another bugbear had been lifted from my mind.
I lost no time in gathering a quantity of ripe, dry nuts and extracting the oil, and while at first I secured but a small quantity, by boiling the chopped meat in water I rapidly improved, and before long had several quarts of the clear, white oil. I found that this vegetable oil burned far better than the turtle fat and, moreover, was much easier to handle and preserve, for it was semi-solid and about the consistency of lard.
Now that the question of oil was settled I began to think what might have happened had my oil given out, and I determined to spare no time or trouble in endeavouring to obtain fire by friction, or some other method, that I might be prepared in case of need.
Following out this decision I set about a thorough examination and test of all the dry woods I could find upon the island. Each bind was formed into a fire drill and block and fairly tried, for I was firmly convinced that my failure along this line of work had been due to improper material rather than lack of skill or knowledge; for I had often obtained fire by this method when "playing Indian" in my youthful days.
The work of testing all the varieties of wood was very tedious and tiresome, but it served to occupy my mind and keep me from worry, and after a few days I had eliminated a great number of kinds as unsuitable.
Those which showed any tendency to produce fire—as charred or smoking dust—were then selected and each of these was tried with each of the others in various combinations.
I had almost given up in despair, when I tried my most promising spindle on a bit of dry driftwood picked up on the beach.
Almost immediately the dust commenced to smoulder and, greatly elated, I bent every effort to my work. In a few moments more smoke was rising freely from the little pile of wood dust and a tiny red spot began to gleam in its blackened centre. Quickly but gently I placed a pinch of tinder upon the mass, while blowing it softly, covered it with a chip of wood, and waved the whole back and forth in the air.
Once, twice, three times I brought it upward and downward, and at the third sweep of my arm a bright blaze sprang from the tinder. Filled with joy I extinguished the flame and tried again. Once more fire rewarded my exertions, and again and again I tried and succeeded.
Never more need I fear for lack of fire, for it was now at my disposal and, if by accident or other cause my lamps failed, I had but to use my precious drill and block to obtain new fire.
I was filled with the most ridiculous pride and delight at my discovery and carried the materials constantly with me, and every few hours I would sit down and proceed to conjure up fire from the bits of wood.
I was almost mad over the matter and for days I would be seized with a sudden fear that I could not again kindle a flame and could not rest content until I had tested my ability once more.
A TERRIBLE LOSS
SOON after my discovery of making fire by friction I noticed a few sea-birds flying about, and their numbers rapidly increased and new varieties joined them until a great many birds of several kinds were constantly flying back and forth, resting on the water before the beach or gathering in huge flocks on their feeding grounds at the flats.
None had commenced to breed, and as I was greatly in need of meat, as well as anxious to obtain skins for making leather, I spent some time planning how to secure a number of birds without disturbing the others.
The birds were not shy, and yet they were not tame enough to permit mc to approach within striking distance, and I felt that if I were to succeed in hunting them I must manage to secure a bird without fail every time I tried, or else they would soon become very wild and frightened and might even desert the place altogether.
I thought of snares, and even tried this method, but the mud, when bare, was too soft to support anything of the sort and when covered by the tide the snares were of course useless. Spears, I thought, might answer, and I spent some time making a weapon of this kind, but after practising a short time at an imitation bird—composed of leaves and fibre—I found that it was impossible to be sure of hitting the mark. A bow and arrow I decided was my last hope, and in fact I had only put off making these owing to the difficulty I knew I would encounter in forming serviceable weapons with my crude materials and knife. Having decided to attempt the feat, I at once set to work and, after a deal of trouble, I found a tough, springy wood which served excellently for a bow. I then spent a long time testing various woods for arrows and at last decided on straight, dry canes, which grew abundantly back of the mangrove swamp. These made splendid arrows, but were so fragile that they could be used but once or twice.
I had great difficulty in securing feathers, but by searching the flats where the birds congregated I picked up several quills from the Pelicans and these were fastened on the shafts by lashings of the finest Yucca fibre. For arrow-heads I used the sharp, pointed, and hard bones from the dorsal fins of a species of Trigger fish, which I caught in the fish trap, and when these gave out I sharpened bits of turtle bones found among the rubbish on the beach. A number of days were consumed in making my outfit, and when it was completed I used up a good proportion of my arrows in practice. I soon became quite expert as an archer and, as I knew I could approach within a dozen yards of the birds, I had little fear of missing those at which I shot.
Early one morning I set out for the flats with my hunting outfit and found the place swarming with birds, for they were increasing in numbers daily, and during the time I had spent working on my bows and arrows the flocks had trebled in numbers. I walked cautiously and carefully towards a group of great Pelicans that were sunning and preening themselves on a little hummock, and when within some ten paces I fitted an arrow to my bow and, taking the greatest care, I drew the shaft to its head and let drive. At the twang of the string the birds started slightly and the next instant one of them flopped its wings once or twice and fell over, with my arrow quivering in its breast. The others took fright and flapped off a few yards and again settled. I approached them once more, highly delighted with my success, and again fired. This time my quarry was not killed and, with loud cries of pain and fright, half ran and half flew off across the flats, alarming all the other fowl in its flight. Anxious to obtain the creature before the rest became panic-stricken, I hurried rapidly in chase. The flats were partly covered with water and I splashed through this and the mud beneath up to my knees.
After quite a long pursuit across the flats, the Pelican finally grew exhausted and permitted me to come within reach. He was a fine, fully-grown bird and I found that the arrow had done but little injury, having merely broken one of the wing bones and grazed the back. It seemed a shame to kill the bird, and I conceived the idea of keeping him alive and making a pet of him. I therefore secured his wings and neck—for he bit viciously with his long, powerful beak— and started back across the flats to my first victim.
I found that my wild chase after the wounded bird had greatly alarmed the others and that it was useless to try and approach within bowshot until they had recovered from their fright.
With the wounded Pelican and the dead one I was well loaded down and reached my dwelling quite tired and very hot, but thoroughly elated at the success of my hunt.
My captive I secured with a fibre rope and clipped his wings as a further precaution, and then proceeded to cook and eat a good meal. After my hunger was satisfied I drew my fish trap and, selecting a number of the smaller fish, I endeavoured to feed the wounded Pelican. He was very sulky at first and steadfastly refused food, but by opening his bill and placing fish within the pouch I managed to get several fish down his throat.
I soon skinned the dead Pelican and stretched the skin to dry, for I had not yet prepared any tanning material and knew that the dry skin would tan as well, or better, than when fresh.
I had long ago decided to use the bark of the mangroves as tan, for I had seen this used many times and also knew that it was imported to the United States for tanning purposes. Equipped with a good-sized basket I started for the mangrove swamp to secure the required bark and was soon busily at work chipping and whittling it from the lower branches and roots. I had gathered quite a lot of bark in this way and had climbed to the branches of the trees, where I found the bark of much better quality and easier to remove.
I was scrambling about among the interwoven limbs when suddenly a dead branch gave way and I plunged headlong through the leaves and twigs to the deep mud beneath.
I picked myself up unhurt, but considerably shaken, and suddenly realised that in my fall the knife had been knocked from my hand. I was completely stunned by this discovery, for the knife was my only edge tool and my most useful and valuable possession. Ever since my arrival I had guarded it with the utmost care and had been in constant fear of losing or breaking it. To insure its safety I had braided a laniard of fibre and had made a neat case, or sheath, in which I constantly kept it slung about my neck. It had never occurred to me that by such an accident as had now befallen me I should lose the knife while in use, and even now I could scarcely realise that it had really gone or that I would be unable to recover it. I hunted high and low, wallowing in mud and slime, feeling about the crooked, oyster-covered roots, poking into every hole and corner, and even climbing into the trees in the hope of finding the precious implement among the branches. Feverishly I sought; cutting and tearing my hands; muttering, mumbling, and raving over my loss, but all in vain; it was worse than trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.
At last, hot, tired, soaked with mud and water, and half crazed by my terrible loss, I dragged myself to the edge of the swamp and, disheartened and discouraged, threw myself down on the sand, little caring what Fate now had in store for me.
THIS was by far the greatest loss I had suffered, for my knife had proved my most valuable asset and only through its aid had I been enabled to accomplish all the operations I had carried on at the Key. For hours I lay utterly crushed and discouraged and the more my mind dwelt upon my loss the more I appreciated the value and usefulness of my knife. Finally, however, I became calmer and, realising that an edged tool of some sort was imperative, I racked my brains to invent some means of providing a substitute for a knife.
Had I been upon an island whereon hard or flinty stone occurred, it would have been comparatively easy to chip a bit of rock into a rude knife which undoubtedly would answer very well for a great many purposes, but here, with nothing but soft limestone for rock, I was obliged to think of some other material. Sharpened bones, hardened wood, birds' beaks, and sharp-edged shells all occurred to me, and finally with my interest somewhat aroused I rose and at once commenced to gather up various articles, which might serve in place of my lost knife, in order to test their comparative merits. The hardest and sharpest bones I could find were the jaws of turtles, and when the outer plate of horn was removed from these they presented a fairly sharp and smooth cutting edge. I carefully broke away all the surrounding bone from several of the best turtle jaws and sharpened the edges still further by grinding them along a fairly smooth piece of rock. I found that the jaws thus treated would cut meat, dried fish, and even skins fairly well, but that tough fibres, or even small twigs, resisted all attempts with these crude bone tools. I next turned my hand to hardening wood by fire, which I knew was done by some savage tribes; in fact, I had seen arrow and spear heads made in this manner in use by Central American Indians and knew that the wood used for such weapons was almost as tough and hard as iron.
I was at a loss to know what kind of wood was best suited to the purpose of fire-hardening and so decided to gather a collection of all the hardest woods on the island and try them all and select the one giving the best results. The idea seemed excellent, but at the very outset proved impracticable, for I had quite overlooked the fact that to gather the wood to make a knife I must first have a knife to cut the wood. After a deal of trouble I succeeded in hacking and breaking off some dead branches of hardwood and charred them in the fire and rubbed down the outer, blackened surface to an edge and found that the increased hardness from this treatment was scarcely worthy of consideration.
The sharp edges of the beaks of pelicans, boobys, and other large sea-birds were then tried and I found that in many ways these were far superior to the bone or wood makeshifts.
By the time these various experiments had been carried on the day had passed and, tired and disheartened, I went to bed, but had little sleep, as my mind was constantly dwelling on my loss and on new ways of utilising some material in place of the articles I had already tried. It was during the night that it occurred to me to endeavour to form a cutting tool of some sort from the few bits of metal which had been on my person at the time I was wrecked, and as soon as daylight came I commenced work on these objects. My suspender-buckles were far too small to serve my purpose, and with only the soft rock at hand I could not by any possible means hammer out the thin steel wire into a flat piece which might serve as a cutting-edge for a wooden handle. The brass edge of my pocketbook next received my attention, but this proved to be very thin, soft metal, incapable of taking or holding a sharp edge or of resisting any strain or pressure. Only my watch was now left and, after a short consideration, I decided to tear this to pieces and experiment with the case. The watch had long since ceased to prove reliable, frequently stopping, and for several months I had reckoned time by the sun alone. The loss of the watch was, therefore, of no moment and the case, I thought, might prove of sufficient strength and hardness to serve as a cutting tool. It was a nickel case and I was uncertain whether the metal foundation was brass, or other material, and I rapidly tore the timepiece apart, separated the case from its hinge, and ground and rubbed it until a razor-like edge resulted. The way in which the metal took an edge greatly pleased me, but the very first attempt at cutting a stick with this crude implement turned the edge and I was obliged to whet the metal three or four times before I finally hacked through the stick. It was while working laboriously at this that I thought of a saw, and in a very short time I had succeeded in putting my ideas into practical form by chipping and hammering out notches in the bone jaws of the turtles. True, these notches were uneven, jagged, rough, and without any definite shape, but I judged that they might prove whether or not a saw would be more practical than a knife, and as soon as the notches were cut I tested the rude saw-like affair on a branch. There was not the least doubt that it would saw, but the notches rapidly wore down or the points broke off and long before the branch was severed my tool was again a smooth-edged strip of bone. I felt that if I could but devise some means of cutting notches in my watch-case a fairly efficient saw might be produced, but to cut notches in the metal was, I knew, impossible and I was forced to content myself with the poor apology for a knife which the metal case with frequent grindings afforded.
The value of a knife was particularly great at this season, for it was approaching the time of the usual summer rains and I had planned to accomplish a great deal during the wet weather and had hoped to lay in a good stock of skins of birds and other creatures before the rainy season arrived. My knife had been lost while gathering bark from the mangroves for tanning skins, and its loss had quite driven the tanning ideas from my mind, but now that I had assured myself that a practical knife was quite beyond my resources I decided that I might as well try my hand at tanning the pelican skin.
If this proved a success, I could readily secure more birds and tan their skins at leisure, while, if it proved a failure, the birds would be left undisturbed except when required for food.
The bark which I had been gathering when I dropped the knife still remained in my basket or scattered beneath the trees, but as several hard showers had occurred since it was cut from the trees I thought it very probable that the tannin in the bark had been dissolved or washed out and that to have any success in my operations I must gather a fresh supply.
I found that the sharpened and roughened jawbones of the turtles would serve very well as scrapers, and, moreover, the bark now separated from the limbs much more readily than earlier in the summer.
After a steady day's work I succeeded in filling my basket with fresh bark and, reaching my hut, I threw the material into a turtle shell of warm water, for I had already found that water could be boiled in a cocoanut shell and that even a turtle shell—if set on the hot coals away from actual flame—would transmit enough heat to warm the water within.
When I arose the next morning I found that the water had become quite brown from the infusion of the bark and had a very bitter, puckery taste. I had no means of knowing just how strong the decoction should be, but decided that I would try its effect on the skin at once. I, therefore, soaked out the dried skin in water and left it to soften while I cooked and ate my breakfast.
By the time my meal was finished the skin was quite flexible and, after squeezing out the superfluous water, I placed it in the tan. I stirred it around and around a number of times and finally placed bits of rock upon it to keep it from floating to the surface. The next day I repeated the stirring and took care to see that the liquor had reached every part of the skin. On the third day I drained the skin, squeezed out the liquor, and stretched the skin up to dry. It had assumed a deep-brown colour and when dry it was shrunken and stiff as a board. I soon discovered that by scraping and working the skin that it would soften up more or less, and I also noted that in one or two spots, where the skin had not been thoroughly dried, it became much softer and more flexible than in other places, and I thus realised that if I worked up the skin while still damp I would obtain far better results.
Although the skin was quite stiff and "crackly" when finished, yet it was undoubtedly leather and was quite tough and strong and very different from the paper-like, raw bird-skins I had been obliged to use previously.
The fact that the feathers still adhered to the skin was the only objection, for these rendered it clumsy, heavy, and far too warm for use as clothing or shoes, but I reflected that shoes made with the feathers outside might prove more impervious to water and would wear longer than the bare leather.
I felt, however, that it would be quite easy to remove the feathers by allowing the skins to remain uncured until the feathers fell out, but I knew that this might injure the skin. I tried to recall all I had ever read of tanning skins, and after some time I remembered a story in a juvenile magazine which related how an Indian boy had removed the hair from a skin by treating it with wood ashes in water. I resolved to try this experiment with the next skin I obtained, and then, gathering together my bow and arrows and other articles, I set forth for the flats to secure more skins. By this time the young birds had left their nests and were feeding and flying about with their parents and the flats were covered with water fowl of all sorts and sizes. I found very little difficulty in approaching within a few feet of boobys and pelicans and shot half a dozen of each before the rest of the flocks became alarmed or wary.
The dead birds were soon skinned and I returned home well satisfied with the success of my hunt and more than pleased with the excellent way in which the sharpened watch-case had behaved when used as a skinning tool.
As soon as I reached the hut with the skins I placed them in soak—some in wood ashes and water and the others in the tan. In a few hours I found that those treated with ashes would shed their feathers by rubbing them backwards with a stick, and after removing all the feathers I rinsed them in water and placed them in the tan liquor with those still retaining the plumage.
That afternoon it poured in torrents and, having occasion to visit the beach, I threw the tanned pelican hide over my head and shoulders. I found that it was an excellent waterproof and shed the rain as well as when worn by the pelican in life, and I at once planned to sew several similar skins together to form a poncho or cape for wet weather.
The new lot of skins turned out far better than the first and, by working and scraping at them from the time they were taken from the tan until they were dry, I found that very soft, flexible skins resulted. It must not be supposed, however, that these bird skins were at all like real leather; on the contrary, they were very thin and more like soft vellum or parchment than leather, and even when quite soft and flexible they had comparatively little strength.
They were, however, a vast improvement over my home-made cloth or plaited leaves, and, as my supply was practically unlimited and my time was of no importance, I knew I could afford to use the skins for all sorts of purposes, even if their life was very short and they did wear out rapidly.
Over a year had now passed since I first crawled up on the beach from the sea, and not once had I seen a sail or the smoke of a distant ship. The Key had become much like home to me and I scarcely hoped to be rescued. My early loneliness had somewhat worn off and my tame Pelican, that I had named "Doc," proved a most enjoyable companion. He would follow me about wherever I went and would sit and fish for hours in the lagoon or near the beach. His wings were no longer kept clipped and he would frequently visit his friends on the flats, but invariably returned to the hut at nightfall.
My time was fully occupied for several weeks in tanning skins, making clothes and shoes, and adding to my stock of cocoanut-oil, and fashioning many little comforts for my house furnishing. Without my knife all these operations necessitated a great deal of labour and occupied an enormous amount of time.
To open a cocoanut with my crude tools required far more time than it formerly needed to open a dozen, and thus comparatively little was accomplished in any work that required the use of a knife. Tanning and sewing the skins could be accomplished easily, however, and I found that from the birds I could procure nearly all the materials for housekeeping, clothing, and bedding, as well as grease and oil, blood for cement— which I had now discovered could be dried and later softened in water with good results —as well as sinews for thread and sharp bones for awls and needles.
Thus the rainy season passed, but it was far more wet and windy than the first summer and frequent hard squalls threatened to strip the roof from my hut or the tops from the palm trees, but no damage actually resulted from the gales until very late in the season.
Early in September there was a heavy torrent of rain for several days, which deluged the island. It fell in sheets, blotting out objects a few yards distant and driving into every crack and crevice. The downpour was accompanied by a heavy gale, which bent and tossed the tops of the palm trees, slatting and crashing the long plume-like leaves against the trunks and casting old and young nuts in dozens to the earth.
Even in the shelter of the forest the commotion was terrific, and I was mighty thankful that I had abandoned my flimsy lean-to on the beach and had built a strong and serviceable hut. So severe was the storm, however, that the floor of the hut was continually flooded and water oozed and ran through innumerable tiny cracks in roof and walls and beat in under the eaves. It was a most dreary and uncomfortable time, and when at last the rain decreased in volume and light spots showed here and there among the scudding clouds and the wind fell to a moderate gale, I was indeed thankful that the storm was over.
Little did I realise what the morrow had in store. I retired with the feeling that the storm had passed, and for the first time in several days I slept without rain dropping on my face or soaking my couch, and in place of the sound of crashing branches and howling winds I was lulled by the soft sighing of a moderate breeze. It seemed as if I had barely closed my eyes when I was rudely aroused by being tossed and heaved about and all but thrown from my bed, and as I scrambled to my feet in the darkness the earth shook and reeled, bits of cement and sticks fell clattering from the walls of my hut, and the poor pelican squawked and flopped frightened from his perch. Instantly I realised that a severe earthquake had occurred, and I stepped out of doors and looked about. I barely reached the outer air when another and heavier tremor passed through the earth, and with many loud cracks the walls of my poor hut crackled in a dozen places, while the cement fell off in huge flakes.
Frightened and somewhat dazed, I jumped a few feet from the hut and stared about, scarce realising what had occurred. Suddenly I heard a roar as of escaping steam from a hundred boilers and before I could turn or run I was picked bodily from my feet and hurled crashing into the brush twenty feet distant by the force of a tornado that filled the air with flying limbs and branches, cocoanut-husks, brush, sand, and fragments of trees, and which levelled my little home as smoothly as though an enormous roller had passed over it.
It was impossible to stand, or even crawl, against the hurricane, and in constant dread of being crushed beneath a falling tree I crept along with the wind until I gained the shelter of a low ridge of rock, where, utterly exhausted by the struggles with the elements and overcome at the thought of my home being destroyed, I lay soaked with rain, pelted with falling twigs and bits of bark, and chilled by the damp earth, while the wind roared, the lightning flashed, and terrific peals of thunder transformed the tropic night into a perfect pandemonium.
All things must end at last, and finally the dreadful night passed, the wind fell, and with the first pink of early sunrise the storm had blown itself out and travelled off across the sea.
When at last the sun rose and the balmy morning air was bright and clear, I gazed about me on a scene of utter desolation. Along the beach the cocoanut trees stood bare and leafless or stretched prostrate across the sands; beyond the palms the sea-grape trees were broken, torn, and twisted from their roots, and further back the forest itself was storm-swept and ragged, with each tall tree stripped bare of every leaf wherever it projected upward above its neighbours.
The beach itself was wave-swept and, in place of the smooth, white sand, great ridges and hills had been piled against the palm trees by the huge breakers. Where my first lean-to had stood there was merely a huge pile of sea-tossed debris and my garden patch was a waste of torn and twisted stems and branches. My path through the woods was well-nigh impassable with fallen trunks and broken branches, and my cement house was merely a mass of tangled, broken rafters and pulverised cement. My hammock and chairs, my simple house furnishings and clothes, and such few odds and ends as I kept in the hut were buried in the ruins. I was tired, wet, miserable, and hungry, and I decided that ere trying to extricate anything from the mass of wreckage I had better eat. The lamp that I had always kept in the hut was of course overturned and extinguished, and I hurried to one after the other of my various lamps, only to find that each and every one had been destroyed. Although I had for a long time been able to produce fire, I had invariably kept my perpetual lamps burning to save time and labour in kindling a fire, as well as to prevent wearing out my fire-making tools by constant use. Finding my lamps out of commission, I at once decided to make my fire with the drill and spindle, and was obliged to support myself against a near-by tree, so overcome was I with the sudden realisation that my precious tinder, fire sticks, and other apparatus were all buried deep beneath the ruins of my hut. Hurrying to the ruins, I commenced frantically to paw and scratch among the broken sticks and cement, but I soon found my strength unequal to the task until I had partaken of food of some sort, and I hurried back to the beach and hurriedly ate the remains of broken cocoanuts. This helped somewhat and, going back to the hut, I again commenced digging. After hours of hard, back-breaking, discouraging work, I at last reached the spot where my various crude utensils were kept and, much to my joy, I found my precious fire-drill, spindle, and block of driftwood all safe, as well as my watch-case knife and bone tools. Everything was soaking wet and I could not hope to create fire until the implements were thoroughly dried out. I, therefore, placed them on a flat-topped ledge in the bright sunshine to dry and started to my fish-trap to secure some fresh fish for my meal. I reached the ledge and pulled on the rope, but it came lightly up from the water, chafed smoothly off against some under-water ledge by the raging seas of the night. Here, indeed, was ill-luck: I was robbed of home, furniture, comforts, and means of obtaining food at one fell sweep and, utterly disheartened, I dropped on the rocks and raved and sobbed.
THE SMUGGLERS' CAVE
PRESENTLY, however, this outburst passed, and while still horribly depressed and overcome at the series of misfortunes which had overtaken me I pulled myself together and faced the matter squarely. There was no chance of obtaining fresh fish and my only hope of securing food was to visit the flats and the breeding grounds of the birds in the remote chance that some injured or wounded bird might be found or that on my walk I might be able to gather enough shellfish to allay my present and most pressing needs.
With this object in view I again visited the hut and from the ruins extricated my bow and arrows—several of which were broken— my plaited haversack, or bag, and a few other articles. Thus equipped I walked past the spot where my fish-pot had been lost and over the signal-hill towards the lagoon and beach. As I came within sight of the lagoon I noticed a pelican swimming about and was much elated, as I thought doubtless I could approach within bowshot. A moment later, however, I recognised the bird as old "Doc" and at my whistle he came flapping towards the shore and joined me. The shore around the lagoon and the steep sand banks near at hand were entirely altered by the wind and waves of the recent storm, and I noted that a large portion of the further end of the high bank had been undermined and had slid down to the beach, carrying trees, brush, and matted vines with it. Walking along the beach in the direction of egg-hill, I soon reached the spot where the landslide had occurred and, much to my surprise, I discovered that a good-sized hole or opening in the bank had been disclosed by the removal of the vegetation.
The sand and earth formed only a. thin stratum over the underlying rock and the heavy rain and earthquake had shaken and washed away the former and laid bare the rocky foundation in which the hole appeared. It was evidently the entrance to a limestone cavern and I peered within, but the darkness was so intense I could distinguish nothing save glistening stalactites hanging from the roof and ledges close at hand. I decided to come back and investigate the cave as soon as fire and a torch could be obtained, for I immediately realised what an ideal home it would form, if dry and habitable within.
Pressing onward to the sand-dunes of egg-hill, I found that here but little damage had resulted, and with a great deal of satisfaction I saw that the heavy seas had not disturbed the bed of mussels and other shellfish that covered the edges of the flats and the several small tidepools, and I soon gathered a sackful. It was fortunate that these remained, for I saw but three or four birds, and these were very wild and kept far out of bowshot.
Laden with my shellfish I returned to the rocks near my ruined hut and found my fire sticks and tinder had thoroughly dried out. A few minutes' work sufficed to build a roaring fire and very soon I was eating ravenously of roasted mussels and yam, for by diligent search I had located a few of these tubers which had not been washed out and destroyed by the storm.
The meal, though meagre and simple, was far more palatable and satisfying than my first meals on the Key and, having finished, I gathered up several branches of the gum tree—which I always used for torches—covered with resinous gum, my fire sticks, and tinder and started forth to explore the cave.
Arriving at the entrance to the cavern, I kindled my tinder and, lighting a gum knot, pushed my way through the narrow entrance and, holding aloft the flaming torch, found myself in a wide, high cavern with a roof covered with sparkling stalactites of every form and size, while the floor of the cave rose up into large and small stalagmites, many of which joined the hanging formations from the roof and thus produced stout stone pillars or columns extending from floor to ceiling. Beautiful and interesting as the formation proved, I was far more interested in the objects that I espied piled in a corner to my right, for there, exposed to my view by the flaring torchlight, were boxes, bales, barrels, and chests piled half-way to the ceiling.
Evidently I had stumbled upon a cache of pirates or smugglers and, as I approached the packages and examined them more closely, I found that all were very modern and of recent construction, and hence must have been placed in the cave by smugglers and not by ancient pirates. While many of the packages were easily recognised as containing cloth, liquors, shoes, provisions, and similar articles, numerous other packages were strange in form and shape and I could not even guess at their contents. One package, however, particularly attracted me, for its shape told me at once that it was a "drum" of American tobacco, and in a very short space of time my surmises had been proved correct and I was in the possession of a good pocketful of the weed.
I only stopped long enough for a cursory examination of the contents of the cave before deciding to move all my remaining goods into the place at once, for with the store of useful articles already there I felt that I should be quite comfortable and that my find more than offset all the misfortunes that had recently been my lot.
Within a couple of hours I had recovered and transported all my unbroken shells of nuts and turtles, my several woven baskets, all the uninjured skins and leather, and my torn and broken hammock and chairs.
By the time these things were within the cave I felt that my evening meal was in order, and another trip was made to the shellfish beds. I had no doubt that I should find numerous foodstuffs among the smugglers' goods, but at the present time I had no time to attempt the tedious work of breaking into the boxes with the crude implements at my command. I had found my pipe intact among the ruins of my hut and the taste of the tobacco smoke was indeed welcome after my long abstinence and my recent troubles.
To vary my diet somewhat I travelled around the islet as far as the mangrove swamp and obtained a goodly supply of oysters, for this side of the island being to leeward had not suffered at all from the hurricane.
Returning to the cave, I built a fire just outside the entrance and soon had cooked my meal and, feeling more content than for some time previously, I sat at the doorway of my new-found home contentedly smoking and making plans for breaking open the packages within. I also speculated a great deal on the probable owners of the goods and, after considering the matter from every point of view, I decided that the smugglers had undoubtedly been wrecked or had been captured and imprisoned and that there was little fear of their returning to claim the merchandise, for the thick layer of dust which covered them, as well as a thin coating of dripstone on several places, proved beyond doubt that the stuff had been undisturbed for several years.
I slept soundly the first night I spent in the cave and, as soon as I had breakfasted, I started the work of opening and investigating the cases and bales. Some of the bundles were merely bound with hoops or withes and these were readily opened. Their contents were various, but the first two disclosed nothing of particular value to me, for one was packed with fine porcelain, while the other held bolts of fine silk and lace, which had been soaked with water and were entirely ruined. Disgusted with these investigations, I turned my attention to the boxes and found them sturdy, iron-bound affairs, very difficult to open. The fact that hoop-iron was used in their construction was a great joy to me, however, for I saw at once that a piece of the iron could be made into a far more satisfactory knife than the one made from my watchcase.
After a lot of hard work with sticks and rocks, I at last succeeded in detaching the iron-bands from a case and with a few more blows of a rock I knocked off the cover. Imagine my disappointment on finding it neatly packed full of ladies' and children's shoes! Shoes for my own use would have been most welcome, but here were dozens of pairs of shoes of all styles and richly decorated and most valuable, and yet not a single one that would prove of the slightest use for my own needs.
So laborious had the simple matter of opening these packages proved that I hesitated about opening more for the present, but set to work fashioning a knife from the hoop iron. It was slow, tedious work, for I was obliged to form the blade by breaking the iron to the proper length and then grinding it down to a point and edge. It was full noon by the time the blade was shaped, and I then heated it in the fire and tried to impart some sort of a temper by dipping it in cold water. This process hardened it considerably, and when finally sharpened to an edge I found it answered very well for cutting soft wood and was a thousand times better than any of the makeshifts I had been using.
The success of this work was so great that I decided to work up some of the iron into arrow-heads and other implements and to make several extra knives to use in case the first one should be lost or broken. All this was of course dependent upon whether or not I found tools or knives in any of the boxes and, knowing the value of edged tools in the islands and the all but universal use of machetes among the natives, I had great hopes of finding such things among the goods stored in the cave. I spent the entire afternoon rummaging among the packages and failed to find anything of any help or value, except a quantity of cloth, which I could readily make into very serviceable clothing. Jewelry, silks and laces, ribbons, porcelain, glassware, drugs, liquors, and tobacco formed the bulk of the merchandise and, while I opened but very few cases and bales, I determined the contents of many others by the markings on the packages.
The next day I abandoned my search and devoted my time to fashioning iron arrowheads and, as soon as two of them were completed, I set out in search of birds on which to try my new weapons. I found that few sea fowl had returned since the hurricane, but I finally managed to shoot a booby, and the superior accuracy of the iron-headed shaft was very apparent, for I killed this bird at nearly twice the distance I had hitherto considered possible.
For the next few days I spent my time making new arrows, extra knives, and in overhauling and examining the immense amount of material in the cave.
As the value of the cache was impressed upon me, I became fearful lest some of the smugglers might return for the goods and, finding me in possession, take my life, and I now began to fear the appearance of a boat more than to desire it. This fear daily grew upon me until I lived constantly in dread of being attacked, for I well knew the desperate character of the negro and half-breed smugglers and I felt sure that sooner or later they would reach the Key. The idea of their being wrecked or lost at sea seemed more and more improbable and I was firmly convinced that they had been merely captured and imprisoned by the authorities and that as soon as released they would make all haste to recover their goods on the island.
A FORTUNE FROM THE SEA
To overcome my fears and keep my mind from dwelling on the danger of the smugglers' return, I kept myself employed at some labour continually and, as I was faring very poorly on shellfish and an occasional bird, I began a new fish-trap very soon. The trap was far better than my first attempt and, as soon as completed, I carried it to the tank rocks and set it in the same spot where I had placed my former trap. The following morning 1 hauled the trap and, much to my chagrin, I found it contained nothing but a few small crabs. These proved a slight addition to my bill of fare, but day after day I pulled the pot only to meet with disappointment and, although I tried various localities, I met with ill-luck everywhere. Sometimes a crab or lobster would be my only capture, while at other times a few small, bony fish would be in the trap, but in the majority of cases the pot would be empty. I was thoroughly discouraged and finally came to the conclusion that the hurricane and earthquake had driven all fish from the waters. Brooding on this matter, I sat on the beach near the lagoon watching my tame pelican and considering whether or not I should sacrifice my pet for a meal. He was swimming slowly about in the lagoon, preening his gray, shining feathers and occasionally diving suddenly into the limpid water. At each return to the surface he would throw up his head, toss a fish into the air from his pouch, and, catching it head-first as it fell, gulp it down with gusto. Watching him idly, it dawned upon my mind that here was a method of catching fish which never failed and which I could utilise for my own purposes without labour or trouble.
To think was to act and, calling Doc ashore, I soon fitted a ring of braided vines about his neck, just below his pouch, and, attaching a long line to one of his feet, I carried him out to the reef about the lagoon and tossed him onto the water. After a few minutes he became accustomed to the unusual restraint upon his actions and began catching fish as before. The first few that he captured he tossed into the air, but soon found that he could not swallow his prey past the ring about his throat. This was the crucial moment for my scheme, for I feared that when the bird discovered that the fish could not be swallowed he would cease fishing, but after a few surprised squawks he continued to capture the fish and merely stored them in his pouch. This was what I had hoped might occur, and when I thought that enough for my present needs had been obtained I hauled the great fellow ashore by the line and soon robbed him of his fish. Fearing that he might become discouraged at this treatment, I then removed the ring from his neck and fed him several fish from my hand.
The experiment was certainly a huge success and from that time on I had no further trouble regarding my fish supply.
I had utilised my feathered fisherman for some days when one morning I was greatly puzzled by his actions in the water. He would flutter and flop rapidly to the shore, uttering frightened cries, and when tossed back would immediately return in the same way. Watching closely I at last made out a huge, dark, moving shadow far down in the clear, blue-green waters of the lagoon, and presently the object rose towards the surface and I discovered that the cause of my bird's fright was an enormous shark.
Here, indeed, was an unlooked-for and unsuspected danger for both my pelican and myself, for I had daily used the lagoon as a swimming-pool, and I thanked Heaven that the presence of the ferocious fish had been revealed by the actions of the bird before I had taken my customary morning bath.
I had always feared and hated sharks and in my youth had always been afflicted with shudders and fear whenever I saw even a dogfish. That this great creature should have entered my lagoon both surprised and angered me, and I at once sought carefully among the barrier reefs of the pool to find the spot where he had entered, for I well knew that hitherto the openings in the reef had been too near the surface and too narrow to admit of a shark entering from the sea. I soon found the opening in the reef, which had evidently been newly formed by the force of the great waves driven by the recent hurricane, and I made several trips back and forth to shore, each time carrying large blocks of stone, which I dropped into the breach in the reef until I felt sure that no more sharks could enter and that the one within could not escape, for I intended to capture or kill the fellow at once.
The labour of filling up the opening through the reef occupied my time until noon, and only stopping long enough to eat a hasty meal I commenced work upon my weapons for killing the man-eater.
A harpoon was the only means of capturing him which occurred to me, and, realising that the light hoop-iron would not be stiff enough to penetrate his hide, I spent a long time cutting out pieces of the hoop-iron with holes, through which the nails had been driven in each piece. These various pieces were then rivetted together by nails pulled from the boxes, and after a great deal of labour these were pounded down and ground off until fairly smooth. I next ground down the edges of the rivetted sections of iron until a spearlike point was obtained, and next broke and ground off the other end until a sharp angle was formed. I had planned the pieces in such a way that a hole as left in this rear corner, and through this I intended to fasten a line. The hole was very rough, and to prevent the line charing or cutting off on the rough edges of the metal, I spent several hours enlarging the hole and working it smooth by bits of bone wet and covered with sand and by large nails taken from the cases.
At last the iron head was completed, and I first realised that as soon as it struck the shark or any other object the various thin points would spread and prevent its penetrating. It was now late in the afternoon and I was obliged to leave the completion of my weapon until the next day.
I lay awake for several hours trying to invent some means of so fixing the iron points as to obviate their spreading and finally decided that the only means within my power was to tip them with a sharpened bone cap.
With this idea in my mind I awoke the following morning and after a scant breakfast set to work on a piece of stout turtle bone. As I knew I could not bore or hollow out this bone to fit over the tip of the iron-harpoon, I was obliged to cut a slit in it and bind it to the iron with fine fibres from the Yuccas. Simple as this sounds, it was really an enormous undertaking and occupied the entire forenoon. After fitting the bone tip in place and wrapping and binding it firmly on the iron, I covered the whole with cocoanut oil and rubbed in powdered gum from the "gumier" trees until the surface of the fibre wrappings were smooth and even. Early in the afternoon I completed the harpoon-head, and then selected a long, slender, light pole of dead wood and fitted the head to the latter by tying it in position with a few fibres. A long line of twisted liana was then made fast to the hole in the iron and, armed with my crude harpoon, I hurried to the lagoon. My captive shark was now quite hungry and bold and was constantly appearing at the surface of the water and if any object was tossed near he would quickly turn on his side and dash blindly at it, cleaving the smooth water with his sharp dorsal fin and often throwing a third of his ugly gray body clear of the water.
Making my way to a portion of the reef near the deepest water of the lagoon, I attached a large piece of trumpet-tree to the end of the harpoon line and placed it on the edge of the rocks, coiled the line close by, and stood ready to cast my harpoon at the shark, which I hoped to attract within striking distance by throwing bits of rancid cocoanut meat into the water.
In this plan I was not mistaken, for each piece that I threw in brought the great creature nearer and nearer, until at last he was viciously snapping at the floating nut within a dozen feet of the reef and I could plainly see his wicked, unwinking eyes and gleaming, white teeth.
I now judged my opportunity had arrived and, poising my harpoon in my right hand, I waited until he broke water again and heaved the weapon at him with all my strength. The distance was so short that I could scarcely have missed and I saw the harpoon strike fairly in his back, but the sudden lurch as I threw the weapon overbalanced me and with a tremendous splash I plunged head-first into the lagoon with the harpooned shark. I struggled and fought frantically to regain the surface and the reef, for I was horribly frightened and expected each instant to be torn or mutilated by the ravenous shark, but I had scarcely regained the surface of the water when some object whizzed by me and the next instant a coil of the liana rope whipped about my leg and I was drawn with lightning speed across the lagoon, with the water rushing by my head and filling nose and mouth and threatening to drown me ere I could regain a breath.
Terrified as I was, I fully realised what had occurred: the fish, maddened by the harpoon, had dashed off across the lagoon and a coil of the swiftly-moving line had caught my limb as it paid out and I was now being towed back and forth through the water by the wild struggles of my captured enemy. I fought and struck out with all my strength in the endeavour to catch an occasional gasp of air and, while expecting momentarily to be drawn under and drowned like a rat in a trap, I had at least the comfort of knowing that the shark was far too busy in his efforts to escape from the torture of the iron-barb to give a thought to dining on his aggressor.
I was almost exhausted, my eyes seemed bursting from their sockets, my breath came in gurgling, choking gasps, and intense pains stabbed my leg and spine, and I felt myself gradually losing consciousness when suddenly my wild gyrations ceased, the strain on my limb was released, and I floated quietly to the surface. Tired and exhausted as I was, I felt impelled to reach the shore as quickly as possible, for the dread fear of the shark was upon me, but my first few strokes were of little avail, for I found the line still encircled my ankle. With the greatest difficulty I managed to work this off and, paddling laboriously to the beach, drew myself out of the water, and knew no more.
I awoke to find the sun just setting and, tired, bruised, and sore, but grateful that I still lived, I limped painfully towards my cave and, too weary to eat, dropped upon my couch and fell asleep.
I arose the next morning feeling greatly rested and refreshed, but still very lame and sore in every muscle and with a most oppressive feeling of being completely filled with water. Each time I breathed water gurgled in my throat and lungs and, if I coughed or sneezed, I spouted water like a whale.
I managed to eat a sort of breakfast, but although very anxious to see the scene of my adventure and determine the result of my attack on the shark, I was far too tired and lame to drag myself to the lagoon until late in the afternoon.
When I finally came to the lagoon the first sight that met my eyes was the huge hulk of the shark, floating, with its white belly up, at the edge of the water, while perched like a conqueror upon the carcass and proudly preening his glossy plumage was "Doc" Pelican.
I hastened to the spot and found that my harpoon had penetrated deep in the flesh, but that the line had chafed off at the iron and only this sudden parting of the rope had saved me from a horrible death. Evidently loss of blood, or perhaps an injury to the spine, had finally caused the monster to lose his tenacious grip on life and, highly elated at my success, I brought a line from the cave and, tying it around the tail of my victim, 1 pulled him partly up on the sand and secured the rope firmly to a tree.
The next morning I attempted to get the body further ashore, for I knew the tough hide of the shark would make splendid leather, while from his liver a large supply of oil could be obtained.
I examined the great fish with care and interest and was particularly impressed with the needle-pointed, gleaming teeth which, row after row, filled his enormous jaws. These were of almost perfect arrow-head form and I at once saw in the shark's mouth a goodly supply of splendid arrow-heads ready for my use.
The body was far too heavy to pull out of water, for the shark was over ten feet in length, and I therefore decided to skin him as he lay half submerged in the water. This job, with my crude hoop-iron knife, occupied nearly two days, but on the first I stripped off a piece of flesh which I tried to eat, as I had frequently heard the West Indian natives state that shark meat was excellent. I found it tough, oily, and rank, and could not stomach it at all.
By the time the skin was off and the liver removed, the carcass was in a very bad state, as the heat of the sun was intense, but I was still obliged to cut and hack out the jaws before I could discard the body, and this was very dirty, ill-smelling, and nauseating labour. At last it was accomplished, however, and by prying and hauling I managed to get the mass of putrid flesh back into the water and to push and tow it around the reef to a small channel, or opening. The water here was very shallow and the opening narrow and it required my utmost exertions to force the body through the channel and into the sea without. I felt that it must be done, however, as otherwise the rotting flesh would poison the water of the lagoon and ruin it for bathing or fishing. Necessity will often accomplish wonders, and late in the afternoon I had the satisfaction of seeing the last of my shark bobbing up and down on the ocean swell outside the reef and gradually drifting seaward, while several boobys and a few terns screamed and fought around it for bits of rancid flesh.
The next day my pelican caught an unusual number of fish in the lagoon, and I then realised too late that a portion of my shark's body should have been retained and left in the lagoon to attract the fish.
I was thoroughly exhausted with my recent terrifying experiences and hard work, and my diet had consisted for days of such odds and ends of shell-fish, crabs, and cocoanuts as I could readily obtain. I now felt that I must secure some birds for my meals and, talcing my bow and arrows, I started for the flats.
I noticed a number of birds hovering about and swimming in the shallow water close to the outlying cactus islands, and I at once waded across the flats towards them. As I approached I saw that they were gathering about some object half-floating in the water at the edge of the flats and I at once surmised that it was the body of the shark. My mind, however, was fully occupied with the birds and after a deal of trouble I managed to approach within bowshot of a pelican and killed him easily. As his meat would be sufficient for my needs, I started back and, remembering my ideas of using shark meat for baiting my lagoon, I turned towards the object that had attracted the birds.
As I neared it I was greatly surprised to find that it was not my shark at all, but a great mass of greasy, grayish matter, which upon close examination gave off a peculiar sweetish odour. For a moment I was nonplussed, but the next instant it dawned upon me that the stuff was ambergris and that here at my feet slowly bobbing up and down with the gentle wash of the tide was a fortune, wealth worthy of a king's ransom, and yet in my present state more worthless than so much rotten shark meat.
THE FIGHT IN THE CAVERN
I STOOD for some time considering the floating mass of fortune and at last decided to secure it and store it away, for after all, if I was never rescued, there would be no loss, and if by luck some vessel visited the Key I would be assured of a goodly income for life and would be in a measure repaid for my years of exile.
The stuff was very light, but there was such a huge mass of it that it required all my strength to pull it ashore. Once above the reach of the tide, I left it until I should have had a good meal before breaking and cutting it into pieces and carrying it in baskets and sacks to the cave, where I packed it in one of the boxes which had contained shoes.
I was quite exhausted with my unusual exertions and for several days thereafter I was quite content to occupy myself with the regular routine of my daily life.
I was still more or less nervous for fear of the smugglers' return and constantly kept my bow and arrows and my harpoon—which I had recovered from the shark—close at hand for my defence in case of need. As the entrance of the cave was quite narrow, I felt that it would be comparatively easy to defend it from within, as not more than one man could enter at a time, and in order to make my retreat even safer I piled several heavy boxes and bales on either side of the opening, so that I could topple them over and bar the doorway at a moment's notice. I now began to consider the possibility of being besieged, and to provide against such a contingency I stored a quantity of dried fish and jerked meat in the cave and brought in a number of dry cocoanuts. Water did not trouble me, for I had a splendid pool of clear, cold water in one corner of the cave, where it dripped from the stalactites of the roof and collected in a depression on the rock beneath. In fact, I had used this water for drinking and cooking for a long time and seldom used the rainwater in the tank, save for washing, tanning, and similar purposes where a large amount of fresh water was required.
The fortification and provisioning of the cave occupied my time and gave me something to think about, and I finally felt that I could easily hold my own against any small party of assailants.
Several months had now elapsed since I had taken up my residence in the cave, and gradually I had replaced all my treasures destroyed by the hurricane and had settled down to a regular routine of life. I had been on the Key for nearly two years and, while I had at times suffered more or less and my lot had been far from comfortable, on the whole I had managed to keep in good health and spirits and really wanted for nothing in the way of necessities.
I was lying on my couch thus thinking over the past months one calm, quiet night when I was thunderstruck at hearing human voices from the beach without. Instantly I was alert and, while I hoped that my visitors might prove friends and that my rescue was at hand, yet I greatly feared that the negro smugglers had at last returned and that my life would be in jeopardy in a few moments. Not knowing who the visitors were, I deemed it wise to keep hidden and make no sound until I had decided definitely as to their identity.
There were evidently several in the party and their voices seemed high-pitched and excited as they rapidly drew near my hiding-place. Presently I could distinguish four burly figures walking up the moonlit beach and could now and then catch a word of French Patois, by which I immediately knew they had come from the larger islands and were negroes.
Presently they caught sight of the remains of my fire near the cave and a moment later they spied the dark opening of the cavern exposed to view.
Instantly they grew terribly excited and, stepping back out of range of the opening, they swore and cursed; jabbering and gesticulating and discussing my presence on the Key. I was familiar with the island Patois and, while I could not distinguish all their conversation, yet what I heard was sufficient to assure me that my fears were well founded. The men were all jailbirds, who had been released but a few days previously and had at once stolen a boat and hastened to the islet to secure their hidden goods.
There was considerable dissension among them as to the course to pursue: some arguing that no doubt the intruder was within the cave, while others held that I had already left the island and had robbed the cavern.
All four were agreed, however, that if I was found I should be done away with, and only their inborn superstition and cowardice prevented their rushing the cave at once. Presently they had worked up their courage to the proper point and, two on one side and two on the other, they dashed at the doorway, waving their wicked cane-knives or machetes and screaming out Patois oaths. In the meantime I was not idle and had gathered my arrows close at hand and, as the smugglers rushed forward, I toppled over my barricade and stepped behind it. The foremost smuggler ran full into the barricade and tumbled backward, knocking down the one behind, but in a moment he was up and started to climb over the box and squeeze through the doorway. At this moment I drew my bow and fired straight at his burly form. He uttered a yell of pain and fell back, but the fellow at his rear quickly pushed by and, crouching behind the boxes, commenced throwing handfuls of rocks and sand within. Not daring to risk a blow from a rock or a handful of sand in my eyes, I kept well concealed, and for that matter I had so far had one great advantage over my attackers. I was within the cave in inky blackness, while the negroes were outside in bright moonlight and were easily seen from within. As the crouching smuggler continued to heave rocks into the cave the other slunk away, and I was at a loss to understand their object in doing so. I had not long to wait, however, to find out, for in a few moments they returned, each bearing a flaming gum-tree torch, or " flambeau," and, skulking up close to the entrance, the two torches were quickly flung inside. Surprised at the suddenness of this ruse and half blinded by the glaring torches, I was momentarily at a disadvantage, and in that fraction of a minute two of the rascals had clambered over the barricade and, tossing aside the boxes, rushed towards me with flashing machetes. I had no time to draw my bow and instead seized my harpoon and lunged at my assailants savagely. A single sweep of the machete in the hands of the foremost negro dashed my harpoon aside and I expected to be instantly cut down when help arrived from a totally unexpected quarter.
"Doc," the pelican, had, as was his custom, been perching on a ledge in the rear of the cave, but at the unwonted noise and the flaring torches the poor fellow became terribly frightened and with loud squawks and noisy flapping he flopped from his perch and in a wild scramble to reach the open air he dashed full into the faces of the two smugglers. Instantly they turned and rushed from the cave, screaming in terror, for to their superstitious minds the sudden apparition of a screaming, winged being inside the cave could be nothing but some demon of the underworld, some Jumbie acting in my defence, and, terrified with this idea, the three went scampering down the beach, and a moment later I heard the rattle of their oars in the boat and, peering out from the cave, I saw them push off from the shore and pull frantically away.
Not until I had seen their sail hoisted and the boat had disappeared in the distance did I cease to watch, and then, feeling utterly unstrung and with nerves all on edge, I dropped on the sand before the cavern. How strange was Fate: here, after nearly two years away from my fellow-men, the first human voice I had heard had threatened my life and the first men to reach my place of exile had striven to destroy instead of to rescue me.
Pondering on such matters, I suddenly remembered that I had seen but three men reach the boat and I wondered if the other, whom I had shot at the first assault, was lying dead or wounded near at hand or whether he had gone to the boat before the retreat of the others. I knew that I had struck him with the arrow, but whether it had inflicted a mere scratch or a fatal wound I had no means of ascertaining. Fearing he might be lying somewhere near and badly wounded, I picked up one of the torches and searched carefully in the neighbouring brush, among the rocks, and in all the places that I thought an injured man might reasonably reach. My search was useless, however, and tired and sleepy I returned to the cave and threw myself on the couch. It was not until I awoke late the following morning that the thought occurred to me that possibly the injured smuggler was still on the island and that he would soon be in a condition to return to the cave and attack me.
This was a most disquieting thought, for while I had no fear of an immediate return of the three panic-stricken fellows in the boat, I felt that if the fourth smuggler was only slightly wounded he would soon become desperate for lack of food and, no matter how much dread he might have of the cave and its defender, his hunger would force him to overcome his fears and that at any time he might spring from his hiding-place and cut me down or that at any hour of the night he might sneak into the cavern and murder me as I slept; worse still, he might skulk about until I left the cave for food and in my absence secure himself within, from which vantage point I could not dislodge him.
Filled with such dismal forebodings, I dared not go forth from the cave for any distance, and to make my position within more secure I set to work with energy to build a strong barricade of packages about the entrance. In doing this I came upon a small keg, which I soon discovered contained gunpowder and, while this material was of no value to me under ordinary conditions, I instantly thought of what an aid it might prove in preventing an attack on my cavern. My idea was to dig a trench before the cave, construct a mine with the keg of powder, and by means of a fuse or slow match I should be able to explode the powder in the sand beneath my assailants and either blow them to pieces or frighten them so completely that I would be sure of no further molestation. The powder mine would serve as a safeguard not only against the wounded man, who I felt sure was still on the Key, but would prove equally efficacious against another landing party, which I now feared might appear again at any time, for having once become nervous I pictured to myself how these men would gather together some of their friends and would return in numbers to the cache.
My greatest trouble would, I felt, be in preventing the powder and fuse from becoming damp or wet and thus failing me at the hour of need, and I spent much time trying to solve this difficulty. For a fuse I had decided to use hollow reeds, which grew in abundance near the mangrove swamp, and I finally decided that by coating these thoroughly with cocoanut oil and daubing the joints with gum I might be able to secure a waterproof tube or pipe, which filled with powder would answer as a fuse.
In order to try my experiment I must first of all obtain the reeds, and in order to do this I would be compelled to leave my home unguarded. I feared to do this, as I dreaded the idea of the wounded smuggler taking possession in my absence, and it required several days before I could make up my mind to take the risk, and even then it was owing to the fact that my supply of salt was nearly exhausted rather than for the reeds that I finally forced myself to set out from the cave towards the mangrove swamp.
Birds were now quite plentiful and, having an unusual opportunity, I shot a couple of tree ducks that swam about close to shore and hurried on around the island towards my salt pan. Fearing an attack from the man I had shot, I kept well out from the brush and grass and walked cautiously, turning about every few yards and reconnoitring each jutting rock or pile of sand before approaching it. I was intent upon these precautions and paid little attention to the beach itself, and reached the stream or creek leading from the swamp without seeing any sign of the missing smuggler. I had begun to feel quite relieved and, with a last cautious survey of the trees and brush ahead, I walked to the edge of the creek and, still keeping my eyes fixed in the neighbouring swamp, I paused at the brink, ready to jump across. Before I took the leap from bank to bank I glanced down and, with a horror-stricken scream, turned and fled up the beach.
THE DEAD MAN
IN my momentary glance at the creek I had seen, almost at my feet, the dead body of a man. I ran for several yards before I overcame the momentary fright and shock which the grim discovery had given me and, halting in my flight and reasoning to myself that the dead man was certainly harmless, I slowly returned to the creek-side again.
I was still rather nervous and approached slowly, for my fears of an ambush had kept me on edge and the sudden surprise of finding a dead man had quite shaken me.
I reached the creek a short distance from my first stand and a few yards from the body and could now see that the corpse was that of a coal-black negro of gigantic size and clad in rough, ragged garments. His face was buried in the mud and water, but upon his hip I saw a strong sailor's sheath-knife strapped to a belt and, approaching closely, I turned the body over. In the side of his throat was a great ugly swelling with a broken arrow shaft still sticking in it. There was no doubt now as to the identity of the body, and whether he had died in the boat and been thrown out by his companions or whether he had fallen dead on the shore or had stumbled into the creek, was of no consequence. The fact that he was dead and that I had no further need to fear him was immensely gratifying to my mind, and the fact that he wore a splendid knife, which would prove a Godsend to me, repaid me, I felt, for my battle in the cave and all my subsequent fears.
The fellow's brutal face was a hideous and disgusting sight and I tried to see as little as possible of it as I unstrapped the belt which held the sheath-knife and sat down on the beach a short distance away to consider what I should do to dispose of the body. I could not leave it where it was and, if I merely dragged it down to the water and set it adrift, it might continue to come bobbing ashore at any time. I finally determined that I must bury the corpse, and, as I knew that I could not by any possibility lift it from the bed of the stream at the present state of the tide, I went on to the salt-pan and decided to return when the creek rose and drag the body up on the sand to bury it. I gathered a sack of salt, picked a bundle of reeds, and found several Ibis nests with eggs, which I felt would be most acceptable, and loaded with these I returned towards the cave, but as I had not visited the other side of the Key for some weeks I continued around the beach towards my original camp-site and the tank-rocks. I found my signal had been blown down and that a number of yam vines had grown up from the wreckage of my garden, and by the help of my dead enemy's knife I dug several good-sized tubers.
I reached home without further adventure and soon cooked my ducks and some yams and dined better than for weeks past. It was an immense relief to feel that I had no enemy on the Key, and as the tide had now risen to its limit I picked up a coil of liana rope and turned again towards the mangrove swamp to bury the smuggler.
The incoming tide had washed him further up the creek and I had some difficulty in getting a turn of my line around him, as he floated doubled up close to the bank, and I disliked touching him. The rope was at last made fast and by dint of a lot of hauling and pulling I finally succeeded in rolling the body up onto the beach. My next work was to scoop out a grave in the sand, and this proved a long, hard job, and I had the hole fully half completed before I thought of getting a broad, shovel-shaped bud-spathe from the palm trees for a spade. Armed with this I soon dug a deep grave in the sand and, rolling the corpse into the hole, I rapidly filled it up and stuck a piece of a branch in the sand to mark the spot.
While I felt that the fellow was worthy of little consideration at my hands, yet I felt so grateful at his furnishing me with a knife that I readily forgave him for his attack on my life and decided to erect a cross over his resting-place in the near future.
My labours were not completed until sundown and, with a feeling of security greater than I had enjoyed for some time, I cooked my evening meal and turned in to sleep soundly until long after daybreak.
In moving and shifting the bales and boxes about while building my barricade I had exposed a large portion of the cavern wall which had been previously hidden and now, as I looked in that direction, I noticed a streak of bright light in the wall. Puzzled, I stepped to it and was wonderfully surprised to discover that the light issued from an irregular crack that extended from floor to ceiling. Its width was not over an eighth of an inch and, although I placed my eye against it, I could see nothing beyond. It was very evident to me that the wall separated my cave from another and that the crack in the wall was only visible when the sunlight shone directly on it through some opening in the rocks without. Even as I watched the light gradually disappeared, and proved my theory, and I hastened outside to try and discover just where the external opening was situated. I hunted carefully among the rocks and on bank, but could find nothing that appeared like an opening, and finally gave up and decided that, if I wished to investigate the adjoining cave, I must break through from my own cavern. I was at first at a loss as to how I could accomplish this, but while cooking and eating my breakfast the keg of powder occurred to me and I decided to try blasting at once.
My breakfast over, I again entered the cave and began a minute examination of the crack. I soon discovered that in order to use my powder I must first enlarge the crack enough to hold a charge and, seizing a piece of a broken stalagmite, I pounded against the edge of the crack. Much to my surprise the first blow knocked off a good-sized piece and left a hole big enough to stick my arm through! The wall was merely a thin, sheetlike layer of drip-stone which had formed over the opening. Elated at the ease with which I could break through, I hammered right and left and soon had enlarged the opening until it was big enough to admit my body. The cave beyond was pitch-dark, however, and I had no desire to explore it without a light. I, therefore, kindled one of the smugglers' flambeaux and, holding it within the opening, peered through at the interior, which was brightly illuminated by the sputtering, flaming gum.
I had expected to find another stalactite cave, and what was my surprise to see instead a square chamber walled with solid blocks of stone and mortar! Pushing through the opening I had formed, I stood within the vault and looked about. The chamber was some twenty feet square, with an arched roof about eight feet above the floor, and that it was very old was proven by the layers of drip-stone that coated the walls in many places—completely covering the masonry work—and the stalactites that depended from the ceiling. The hole through which I had entered was in reality a narrow, arched doorway, which had become completely coated with drip-stone, and upon a closer examination I discovered the remains of rotted wooden timbers imbedded in the glassy curtain. This led me to believe that originally the portal to the vault had been closed by a wooden door, which had gradually decayed as the stone formed, and that no doubt the entrance to the chamber had been through my outer cave.
I was curious to find where the sunlight had entered in the early morning and searched thoroughly about the roof and sides for another crack. I found no indication of a second opening, but while thus looking about with my eyes fixed on the ceiling I stumbled over a large obstruction near one corner of the vault. Holding my torch low, to better examine this, I discovered the corner of a large box or chest protruding from what I had supposed was merely an accumulated mass of dripstone on the floor. This was, indeed, an interesting discovery and, filled with curiosity to find what might be hidden beneath the limestone coating, I returned to my cavern and brought a heavy piece of stalactite for a hammer and a hardwood stick for a crowbar. Lighting another torch and sticking the two flambeaux in a crevice, I set diligently to work chipping and prying off the stone from the chest. It was a far greater undertaking than I had imagined, for unlike the thin wall of stone which had covered the portal, this stalagmite-like mass was quite thick and, being supported by the chest beneath, it was very difficult to crack. Even when cracked or broken I found it very hard to pry it off with my crude crowbar and several hours' work found but little impression made on the hard covering of the chest. My torches were burned almost out and I had about concluded to cease my labours for the day when suddenly a large piece of the stone gave way and the sudden and unexpected release of this large mass over-balanced me and I fell sprawling on the floor, while the piece of stone jumped into the air and fell clattering onto the pavement and broke into a dozen pieces. Picking myself up, I noticed that the broken stone was peculiarly formed and, examining it more closely, I found to my surprise that the mass was in reality the remains of several swords, a brace of pistols, and an old blunderbuss, which were all firmly cemented together by drip-stone and were now merely rotten, rusty fragments of metal, which crumbled to powder as soon as the stone covering was broken away. There was no longer any doubt as to the age of the vault and the chest, and beyond doubt I had stumbled upon a hoard of the old pirates who had once made the Key their stronghold.
While the metal parts of the arms were reduced to mere powder, the flakes of flint in the locks of the pistols were still in place and I seized these with joy, for here was a means for making fire without the slow and tedious process of the fire-drill.
Breaking the flints free from their rusty surroundings, I struck one across the back of my knife-blade and saw a shower of bright sparks fly off. This find well repaid me for all my labour at the chest and was indeed a veritable treasure-trove.
The mass of rusty metal and stone so unexpectedly dislodged had exposed a considerable portion of the chest and, as my torches were now sputtering faintly, I considered my day well spent and returned to the cavern for my evening meal.
I was up early the following morning and, hoping to discover the source of light which had first attracted my attention to the vault beyond, I peered within as soon as the sun was fairly up. I soon discovered the crack through which the sunlight entered. Sticking an arrow up through this crack, I made my way outside and, after scrambling among the rocks for some time, I at last solved the mystery. I was not surprised that it had baffled me before, for I found that the crack communicated with the outer air by a hollow root of a tree which had forced its way through a crack among the rocks and that only at one particular spot could the sunshine find its way through a knot-hole to the root and hence to the vault and that the rising sun struck upon this tiny hole for less than two minutes each morning.
As soon as I had breakfasted and had taken a swim in the lagoon, I hastened to resume my labours on the chest and, lighting my torches, I again attacked the hard coating of stone remaining on about one-third of the chest.
A few hours' work sufficed to expose the entire top of the box and I found it to be a very heavy oak chest bound with thick brass straps, enormous ornate hinges, and an immense and cumbersome lock.
How I could break through such a massive lid, or force the lock, was a problem I had not hitherto considered and I sat for some time idly staring at the ancient chest and trying to solve the puzzle. Had the straps and lock been of iron it would have been a very easy matter, for doubtless the iron would have been so rusty and rotten that little effort would be required to break it apart, but the brass had suffered but little through lying in the vault for centuries and, save for a coating of green verdigris, it seemed as strong as when first made.
The use of powder occurred to me, but I feared that an explosion in the vault might shake down the masonry walls, and to move the chest outside was out of the question, for aside from its weight—which I could see was very great—it was immovably cemented to the floor by masses of limestone. Rather discouraged at thus finding that I was balked after so much labour, I gave the lid a thumping blow with my stick and was mightily surprised to see the whole top cave in, leaving only fragments of the wood adhering to the brasswork.
While the brass had withstood the years in the vault, the wood had not, and the once sturdy oak was now merely a mass of punk.
Holding a torch above the smashed lid of the chest, I peered within and saw the interior filled to within a few inches of the top with some dark-coloured material. Poking at this with my stick I found it an accumulation of thick dust and below this my probe struck some hard substance which gave out a distinct metallic clink.
Thrusting my arm through the dust, I drew forth a handful of golden coins; again my hand was plunged into the chest and soon I was digging with both hands, each time drawing forth handfuls of old Doubloons, Pieces-of-eight, old British Guineas, Louis-d'-Or, and odd golden and silver pieces such as I had never seen before. As fast as I drew them forth I piled them on the floor, until my hand encountered a solid mass of metal, which with great effort was drawn forth, and proved a heavy golden ingot. Ten of these were lifted from my treasure chest and laid with the great pile of coins, when a small iron box was found which fitted neatly in one end of the chest.
Lifting this out, I found little difficulty in pounding it open and within it, scintillating in the glare of the burning flambeau and throwing out a myriad of multi-coloured lights, were countless priceless jewels. Great limpid emeralds, brilliant diamonds, blood-red rubies, rough, dull carbuncles, sky-blue sapphires, and royal purple amethysts were thrown together in a wonderful dazzling, magnificent mass.
Here, indeed, was a fortune and I ran my fingers through the pile of hundreds of great gold coins, I hefted the ingots of bullion, and I played with the sparkling jewels gleaming in the torchlight.
The love of gold and riches is strong in man, and here I sat gloating over the fortune I had found and quite forgetting that I was but a castaway waif on an uninhabited island and that in all likelihood my days would be spent upon the Key, with no chance to use a single cent's worth of the enormous treasure that had fallen to my lot.
This thought rather dampened my ardour, but nevertheless I resolved to store the hoard in a safe place, for in my heart I never really doubted that I would be rescued and that eventually I would find my wealth available. To transfer the gold, ingots, and jewels to my cave and store them together in sacks occupied the rest of the forenoon and, as it had proved hard and tiresome work, I was well content to eat my lunch and take a good rest for the balance of the afternoon.
The following morning I again visited the rifled chest, to make sure I had not overlooked any of its contents, and for the first time I noted that the stone I had broken away and the chest beneath it formed but a portion of the irregularly shaped accumulation of stone in that corner of the vault. Thinking that other articles might lie hidden beneath the limestone coating, I pried one of the large brass hinges from the rotten oak of the chest and with this strong and serviceable tool I vigorously attacked the dripstone. The brass hinge cracked the brittle stone quite easily and I very soon knocked away a good amount of it and found my idea well founded when the corner of a second chest was exposed to view. To chip and pry the limestone from this second box occupied the entire forenoon and, after a hasty lunch, I again resumed operations by torchlight. The top of the chest was finally uncovered and proved to be a smaller chest than the first, but bound with iron straps, which had rusted away until very little effort was required, to tear off the lid. Within was a mass of dust from decayed material and, expecting that more treasure was below this, as in the first case, I plunged my hand into it.
Much to my disappointment, there was no solid substance below the soft powder and my hand reached to the bottom of the box without meeting any resistance. Wondering at this, I pulled out a handful of the rotten material and found it to be the decayed remains of gold-lace, rich brocades, and other clothing. A few gilt buttons, a bit of cracked and brittle leather, and an ornamental gold brooch were the only solid articles that I found by groping in the mass.
No doubt this second chest had contained wonderfully rich and valuable goods when first hidden in the vault, but the dampness and rot of two hundred years had left nothing but fragments of cloth and a few gold threads of the lace to tell the tale of what had once been the raiment of some old grandee of Spain.
A considerable mass of stone still remained between this second chest and the wall of the chamber, and I decided to knock a hole in this and be sure that a third chest was not beneath it before abandoning my search altogether.
I felt, however, that this could wait for a few days without danger as long as it had remained in its stony covering for scores of years already, and as I had numerous other matters to attend to, which had been wofully neglected during my investigations in the vault, I spent the afternoon remaining and the next few days at other work and gave no further heed to my pirates' vault for nearly a week.
At last came a windy, rainy, disagreeable day and, as I had nothing else to occupy my time, I decided to amuse myself by a further exploration of the vault. Armed with my torches, the brass hinge for a hammer, and a stout sack for any treasure I might find, I entered the chamber and started to work, little dreaming of the surprise that awaited me.
A deal of chipping and hammering at the stone was required, for here, close to the wall, the mass had accumulated to a depth of a couple of inches and I had about decided that nothing but clear stone formed the rest of the mass when a piece broke away and exposed the corner of a metal box or chest which was apparently larger than either of the two I had previously opened. Nearly the entire day was consumed in chipping off the thick drip-stone coating on this find and late in the afternoon the last piece of rock gave way and the top of the chest lay exposed. This was a lead or pewter chest bound with iron and, inserting the edge of my brass hinge beneath the lid, I pried with all my strength. At first the lid stuck fast and showed no signs of giving. I then hammered lustily at the rusty iron lock and bands and succeeded in bending the pewter away from the iron fastening until I thought the cover could be forced.
Again I pried with my brass hinge and suddenly, with a startling groan and creak, the lid flew up and I fell back with a cry of horrified surprise, for grinning up into my face in the fitful glare of the torches was a yellow human skull, a mass of black hair falling about its temples, and its eyeless sockets wide and staring.
So unexpected and gruesome was the sight that I turned and ran from the cave, and did not breathe freely until once more in the open air. Here in a measure I regained my self-control and reasoned with myself that the old skeleton within the chest was no more to be feared than the dead smuggler on the beach.
Nevertheless, my nerves had received a severe shock and the leer on the skull had seemed so lifelike in my hurried glance within the chest that it required all my courage to at last venture within my cave in the gathering dusk.
I could not stay out in the rain, however, and at last I drove myself to overcome my dread and entered the cave, but, although I had left my torches in the vault, I could not bring myself to again approach the chest and, pushing a couple of boxes against the door leading to the pirate chamber, I tried to forget my fears in cooking supper and preparing for the night. I was fearfully nervous and uneasy and, laugh as I might at my foolish fears, I started each time I heard a wave break on the beach and at the slightest rustle of my pet pelican the hair seemed to bristle on my head. Even when boxes had been piled across the entrance to my cave I was far from easy, for I felt that just within the vault was the gruesome skeleton of the wicked old pirate and I dared not glance toward the irregular opening to the vault for fear of seeing his yellow face and snaky locks peering in through some chink or crevice of the impromptu barricade.
I was perfectly aware of how absolutely foolish, childish, and absurd were my feelings and I remembered how I had laughed and scoffed at the ridiculous fears of the smugglers when Doc had flopped among them, but, try as I would, I could not regain my composure or control my nerves, and I finally tried to get rid of my disquieting thoughts by sleep and threw myself face down on my couch, with a fresh torch blazing in the cavern.
Even the solace of sleep was denied me and it was nearly daybreak when I at last dropped off in a slumber filled with frightful nightmares and dreams of bony fingers clutching my throat; fierce, eyeless pirates driving me into gloomy dungeons, and similar horrors.
I was awakened by Doc squawking at the barred door, through which he was trying to edge his way to the beach, and having opened a passage for him I stepped into the brilliant sunshine, feeling far easier and less troubled than on the day before. A good breakfast and a swim in the lagoon quite dispelled my nervousness and I almost laughed at the foolish way in which I had acted the night before.
I now felt so free from any fear of the skeleton that, as soon as I had finished my household duties, I boldly shoved away the chest at the door and, lighting a torch, strode over to the chest. Looking within and knowing what to expect, I found the sight fearful enough, however, and even with my steadied nerves of the morning I could not repress a creepy feeling and a shudder as I gazed upon the gruesome contents of the leaden casket.
The body was evidently that of a well-grown man and had apparently been forced into the chest fully clothed in boots, doublet, and trousers, for shreds of dark cloth still stretched across his hollow, sunken chest and crackled leather hid his leg bones. His flesh and skin had dried upon his bones and skull and covered the latter with a thin-drawn mask of yellow parchment.
His jet-black hair was braided in two thick, greasy ringlets on each side of his forehead, and shoved jauntily on one side and tipped forward over one sightless eye was a leather cap.
The drying skin upon his jaws had strained his mouth into a hideous one-sided leer and two great yellow fangs of teeth showed in the otherwise toothless gums.
He was a fearful sight now and I had little doubt that in life he was almost as ugly and no doubt possessed a disposition quite in keeping with his looks.
Although I still felt a little nervous as I looked at the fellow, I had a mighty inclination to bash in his ugly skull with my brass hammer and, finding this temptation gradually growing too strong to resist, I finally slammed down the lid of the chest to save myself from thus desecrating the dead.
I had felt quite bold while looking at him, but once the lid had closed over the skeleton I had a return of my nervous dread of the chest and I hurriedly gathered up my tools and torches and retreated to the cave. Even here I was far from at ease and sought relief in the open air.
A brisk walk to the flats and a hunt for birds, followed by a hard hour's work in my garden and the various duties incidental to preparing my food for lunch, dispelled in a measure my foolishness and the rest of the day was spent in tanning skins, searching for turtles' eggs, and in various other out-of-doors occupations.
By the time my evening meal was finished I felt that I had quite regained control of my nerves, but, as soon as darkness fell and I was forced to retire to the cave, I found myself far from easy and finally decided to sleep in the open rather than spend another night so close to the pirate's remains.
I can only attribute my uncalled-for and unusual dread of this harmless bundle of bones to the condition of my nerves and the fact that I had so long dwelt alone, for I had never been troubled with such superstitious ideas in my life hitherto.
As I felt that I could ill-afford to jeopardise my health by lack of sleep or dwelling on my nervousness, I determined, after a great deal of thought, to build another house and abandon the cavern as a dwelling-place. This decision was not wholly brought about through my foolish fear of the vaults' contents, but was partly due to my dread of the smugglers' return and the fact that I had found the cave quite damp and chilly on rainy nights.
Once I had decided on my course, I bent every energy to building a new home, and, as turtles were once more arriving nightly on the beach and as I had greatly increased my stock of useful implements by the brass hinges and straps on the chests and the iron hoops on the boxes, I felt that I could contrive some sort of a house that would be a very great improvement upon the one which had been so disastrously wrecked by the hurricane. My first care was to select a spot of comparative safety and yet so situated that I could arrange to defend it in case of attack, and with this end in view I searched the island thoroughly. By noting the places where the hurricane had done the least damage, I finally discovered a sheltered location near the centre of the Key, on high ground, and within easy reach of the water tank, the signal rocks, and the mangrove swamp, and here I at once set to work clearing away the brush and vines and laying out a foundation of stone and cement. It is needless to chronicle all the back-breaking, tiring labour that occupied me for the next few weeks, but, to make my work less arduous, as well as to be away from the vault and its associations, I first built a temporary lean-to, or "ajupa," close to my new home.
I was considerably worried for fear that the smugglers might return and enter the cavern in my absence and rob me of my ambergris, gold, and other possessions, and as soon as I had constructed my lean-to I moved all the contents of the cave and secreted them in boxes and baskets beneath brush and trash in a small cavern or opening in a nearby limestone ledge.
With the idea of greater safety for my goods, I constructed the masonry foundation of my house with a secret hollow space in which to place my valuables, and as soon as this was done I placed the things within and walled them up securely. I now felt that even if I left the island without the treasure yet I could be reasonably certain of obtaining them again at any time and that no smuggler or other visitor could possibly discover the hiding-place. I found the building work most interesting and felt in better spirits and health than for a long time previously.
In a few weeks my house was near completion and the second anniversary of my first landing was near at hand. It was my habit to walk every morning to the signal rocks and scan the sea for sight of a sail before commencing work, for with the accumulation of a good-sized fortune my interest in being rescued had increased, and in addition I had no desire that a boatload of smugglers should approach the island unseen.
Day after day I looked towards the distant islands and so accustomed had I become to seeing only the glistening sea and the intense blue sky, with its fleecy clouds, that when, on a certain April morning, I saw a faint film of dark, blackish smoke trailing out on the horizon I could scarce believe my eyes.
A moment's steady gaze convinced me of the fact that it was smoke and, fearing that my eyes had played me a trick, I turned away and closed my eyes while I counted twenty. Again I turned and again the faint smudge of smoke drifted from the rim of the sea.
Breathlessly I watched and waited, trying to determine whether or not the steamer was approaching. Minutes passed and gradually the smoke increased in volume and density. Presently a dark, slender point became visible beneath the smoke plume and I felt assured that salvation at last was approaching. Never had I felt so elated, never so confident of rescue, and while tempted to dance and sing, to cut capers and yell myself hoarse, I restrained my spirits and kept my eyes glued upon the approaching vessel, which each moment increased in size until two slender, buff masts and a raking, buff funnel showed plain against the sky. Onward she came, straight towards the Key; larger and larger grew her tapering spars; deck-houses, awnings, and trim white hull came into view, and in a flash I realised that the little ship was a splendid yacht cruising among the islands and no doubt attracted to the Key for the sole reason that it was out of the beaten track and an uninhabited spot.
Realising this, I felt confident that she would approach and anchor, and I frantically raised and lowered my signal flag, which now consisted of a huge square of red and blue cloth from the smugglers’ store, which I had sewn together in the rough semblance of an English ensign, union down.
Still nearer came the yacht, her sharp forefoot spurning a slender spume of white foam from the waves before her bows, until at last I caught the fire of reflected sunlight from her gleaming brasswork.
Scarce a league now separated the vessel from the Key, and on her decks my aching eyes made out the moving figures of white-clad men. Each moment I expected to hear the rattle of her anchor-chains and, jumping on the low parapet of the wall, I waved my hands and shouted wildly.
Presently she slowed, turned half-way round, and slowly her colours fell from the mainmast head, rose and fell again. Three times the little strip of bunting dipped in reply to my signals and I knew I was seen. I was saved! saved! saved! and mad with joy I rushed to my hut and commenced furiously pulling down the cement that hid my treasures. Hurriedly I gathered these together, threw some skins over them until I should be able to get help to transport them to the boats, and dashing from the house I ran to the beach near the palms.
As I turned from the path and came in sight of the beach and the sea beyond, I stopped short and sank, almost fainting, on the sand, for out upon the gleaming blue water, with her stern lifting gracefully to the swell and a wake of turquoise foam running from her churning screws, was the yacht steaming at full speed directly away from the island and my miserable self.
TWO YEARS HAVE PASSED
FEELING as if all hope had gone out of my life, disheartened, saddened, and utterly bereft of power of thought or speech, I sat numbed, crushed, and broken upon the beach and with burning eyes watched the steamer grow fainter and fainter in the distance until only a dull smudge of smoke trailed upon the horizon. At last this too disappeared and still I sat beneath the softly rustling palms and gazed seaward hour after hour until the shimmering sea danced before me and my head swam and ached and, dizzy and sick, I fell face down upon the sand, little caring whether I ever rose again or not.
Parched with thirst, with a splitting head, and a dull ache in my heart, I came to my senses late in the afternoon, and with my first consciousness I could scarce believe that the yacht and her departure had not been all a part of some bad, nightmarish dream.
Very soon, however, the realisation of the blow I had been dealt came back to me, but now my thirst was paramount and, dragging myself to my hut, I drank my fill of cool water and flung myself upon my miserable couch.
I awoke the following morning with my head still aching and had little ambition to eat or bestir myself. Calmer and more sensible moments soon followed and, after eating a few mouthfuls of breakfast, I sat down and mentally scourged myself into some semblance of having regained my senses.
I reasoned that after all I was no worse off than before the vessel came in sight, and had I been busy on the further side of the island I might not have even known that a ship had approached the island. Why she should have come so close, only to turn about and hasten away, was a puzzle over which I racked my brains in vain and not until months later was the riddle solved.
If one boat had come to the island, there was certainly a likelihood of others, and the fact of a yacht being in the neighbourhood brought to my mind the fact that at any time a yacht might visit the Key, for I had not hitherto considered these pleasure craft at all and in my calculations on the chances of rescue I had overlooked them entirely.
The sudden increase in my chances of a rescuing boat gained by thus including yachts within my mental list of probabilities, greatly encouraged me and, realising that at this season numerous pleasure craft were returning from the south and might easily pass within sight of the Key, I determined to set up signals on all four sides of the island. This thought gave me an incentive for doing something, and I soon was busy cutting poles and making flags. On the south shore I was obliged to lash a long pole to the topmost branches of a tree that stood well above its fellows. On the end near the cave I erected a pole on the top of Egg Hill, and on the opposite end I set a tall pole on the extremity of the beach.
When these were all in place and new flags fastened to them, I felt sure that no vessel could pass within sight of the islands without seeing at least one of my signals. I was also relieved somewhat to think that these several flags might also serve to keep off the smugglers, who, seeing the flags, might well think that the island was occupied by several men. It was nearly dark when I completed my signal work and, while eating my evening meal, it occurred to me that a number of piles of fuel, ready to light into large bonfires at a moment's notice, might be of the greatest benefit in case a ship should approach after dark. I determined to gather together these piles the following day, and went to sleep feeling far more comforted and confident of rescue than I had believed possible so soon after my great disappointment of the previous day.
When I awoke the next day my first thoughts were of my signal fires, and I determined to lose no time in attending to the fuel-piles. As I prepared my breakfast I remembered that this was the second anniversary of my arrival at the Key and, while still smarting with the disappointment meted out to me by the yacht steaming away without landing, yet I felt I had a great deal for which I should be thankful.
After breakfast I sat for some time thinking on the various events that had transpired and I decided that as soon as my piles of fuel were arranged I would devote the day to a sort of Thanksgiving celebration, or at least try in some manner to occupy my time in a different way than usual. With the limited means at my disposal I could hardly get up much of a feast or celebration, but after the fuel piles were all placed and ready to be lit in time of need I returned to the hut and meditated on various plans for the future and strove to remember each incident of the past.
While thus occupied it occurred to me that I should have endeavoured to keep some sort of record of the various important events that had taken place on the island, for I found that already I had great difficulty in clearly remembering the order in which incidents occurred or the dates or months on which quite important things happened.
This train of thought gave me an inspiration: I would start a diary and now, while the past was quite fresh in my mind, I would write a history of my castaway life. This would be a very appropriate means of celebrating the day and would prove a welcome change of occupation.
It was a comparatively easy matter to write my journal, for I had any amount of excellent parchment or smooth buff leather made from bird-skins, and for ink I had a lot of pigment that I had obtained from a huge Devil Fish, or Octopus, that I had captured several weeks before. The fight with this great mollusc had been most exciting and had almost resulted fatally for myself.
I had noticed the creature crawling over the bottom of the lagoon just within the reefs and had hurried to my house and secured my harpoon, without stopping to consider the consequences that might result from attacking the animal. When I returned to the lagoon I found that poor Doc Pelican had been seized with a fit of abject terror at the appearance of the octopus and stood trembling and shaking on the reef, too terrified to flap away from the dangerous vicinity.
The octopus had already seen him and was slowly crawling up the sides of the rocks towards the bird, the eight snake-like tentacles feeling about the projections and crevices and gradually drawing the round, short body upward, while the great, greenish, unwinking eyes stared straight ahead as the creature advanced towards its prey.
Here was a splendid opportunity to harpoon the fellow, for he was so intent on the pelican that he paid no attention to my presence, and I had little doubt that he would approach close to the surface of the water and within easy striking distance before he became alarmed or suspicious of myself.
I little knew, as I stood waiting the approach of the octopus, how much I had underestimated the polyp's courage or strength and how much of a Tartar he would prove.
Ugly as the creature was, I could not but admire the wonderful play of pearly colours that ran in waves across his skin, and the sinuous, graceful motion of his arms. He was an enormous beast with a body nearly a foot in diameter and arms fully ten feet long, and I shuddered to think of the fate that might have been mine had I bathed in his vicinity and had been suddenly seized and drawn down by one of the powerful sucker-armed tentacles.
Presently the octopus was close to the surface of the water and one long tentacle pushed slowly up, waved uncertainly a moment, and darted with lightning speed at the pelican. The bird uttered a frightened squawk and flopped away, and at the same instant I drove my harpoon deep into the pulpy mass of the mollusc's body.
Instantly a stream of jet-black ink was thrown from the polyp's body and, with a mighty thrashing of the water, he dropped from the rocks and tried to retreat to his submarine lair. Little realising the strength of the animal, I grasped the harpoon line and tugged as hard as I could, but with all my efforts the rope was dragged through my hands and, as the water was murky with sepia and disturbed by the struggles of the monster, I could only guess at the direction he was taking. Some fathoms of line had run out and I began to fear that he would escape me, when the rope slackened and, thinking he was dead or exhausted, I commenced to rapidly draw in the rope. Several yards had been coiled when suddenly a long arm darted from the murky water and before I could drop the line or jump aside, the slimy tentacle encircled my legs, clutched me with a score of suckers, and threw me down upon the rocks. Horrified and taken unawares, I dropped the line and frantically seized a jutting rock, yelling in fear and striving to kick my legs free from the encircling arm. My efforts were useless, and as I struggled vainly a second tentacle was drawn across me and instantly added its hold to the first. It seemed as if my legs would be torn from their sockets, and so terrified and startled was I by the attack that I forgot entirely that the stout sheath knife was strapped to my belt. Doubtless my first struggles and loss of coherent thought lasted but a few seconds and yet to me it seemed minutes before I bethought myself of the knife and, jerking it from the sheath, reached back and sawed and slashed at the tentacles.
In order to do this I released my hold upon the rock with one hand and immediately found that my strength was less than that of my antagonist and that unless I rapidly cut loose his hold I should be drawn into the water.
His arms were easy to cut and my knife was sharp, and in a few quick blows the two arms were severed and I jumped to my feet and ran as fast as my tired muscles would allow me along the reef to the beach.
It can be imagined how shaken and weak I felt and that I had had all I wanted of Octopus hunting and was mighty glad to think I had escaped at all. I kept well away from the lagoon for several days, but at the end of that time I had the satisfaction of finding my late enemy cast up dead on the shore.
He was of no use to me and I was about to haul his carcass to the sea and cast it away when I remembered the ink he had ejected and recollected that the Oriental India ink is nothing but the dried sepia from a species of cuttle fish. Interested in this thought, I opened the dead octopus and found the sac of ink, which I dissected out and hung up to dry, thinking that possibly sooner or later I would need it.
It was this dried sepia which I now decided to use in writing my history and, armed with a pen made from a pelican quill, the octopus ink, and plenty of parchment, I seated myself at my rough table, made from boards taken from the smugglers' chests, and commenced my story.
As many incidents were overlooked at first and as writing was slow and laborious, I found that various events were from time to time omitted and these, as they afterwards recurred to me, I jotted down on a separate piece of leather. For this reason many items were omitted from the general account of my castaway life, and yet some of these were really of great benefit and had a strong influence on my other accomplishments and on my health and happiness.
Thus I have hitherto neglected to write an account of my discovery of soap-making, and yet I found this simple substance of the greatest value and I marvelled that I could ever have existed without it. The discovery, like many others that I made, was quite accidental and came about in this wise:
I had used turtle shells filled with wood ashes and water for removing the feathers from my bird-skins and into one of these, which contained a small quantity of the solution, I inadvertently dropped a large piece of fat. As soon as possible I drew out the fat with a stick and placed it on a leaf nearby. I had already found that it ruined my skin to expose it to the action of the ashes and water and I, therefore, threw a cocoanut shell of water over the fat to wash off the ash and, much to my surprise, I noticed that the water was whitish and filled with bubbles. Touching the fat with my hands, t discovered that it was smooth, soapy, and soft instead of greasy and firm and I at once realised that by combining grease and ash water in proper proportions I could make soap.
After a little experimenting I succeeded in boiling down the ashes and water and combining it with turtle and cocoanut oil to form a splendid soap. This I used continually and it proved an immense comfort to me. My personal appearance was wild and uncouth at best, for my hair hung over my shoulders, my beard had grown unshaven for two years, and my skin was tanned to mahogany colour by constant exposure. My clothes of odds and ends of skins, plaited leaves and cloth, with skin shoes, must have given me a savage look and, while I often saw my reflection in pools of water among the rocks, I did not realise how really strange I looked, as I had not seen any other man for so long that my own features and dress had become thoroughly familiar. With soap I at least could keep thoroughly clean and, moreover, could scrub and wash my utensils and clothes far better than with plain water, as I had done, and with the acquisition of the sheath knife I found that I could at least trim my hair and beard, and so, as I sat writing my journal, I felt that a visitor would meet a far more presentable castaway than he would have found six months previously. A great comfort in my exile was my pelican Doc and, although I have not mentioned it before, I had made pets of numerous other birds and creatures on the Key. Early in my life on the island I had found that pigeons, doves, and parrots were abundant in the trees during certain months and these birds were such a pleasure to see and hear that I had firmly decided not to molest them, unless through dire necessity.
In a short time they had become very tame, and the parrots in particular had learned to visit my home and would pick up bits of broken cocoanut fat, and meat and, by holding tidbits in my fingers and sitting motionless, I had gradually induced the bright-plumaged fellows to perch upon my knees and shoulders and feed from my hands.
The doves and pigeons had also become accustomed to my presence and would frequently coo and strut about before me searching for odds and ends I had dropped, and as fresh water was scarce I soon found that shallow shells of water set near at hand attracted numerous land birds, and I took great pleasure in silently watching these as they drank and bathed about my home.
The wood rats from the first had been tame, and my own domestic family of rodents had increased until I was obliged to shoo their descendants away to the woods to avoid being eaten out of house and home by them.
At times the rats were troublesome, but I was willing to be molested by them to some extent rather than be deprived of the company they afforded by their presence.
All these live creatures served to help me bear my isolation and I early fell into the habit of talking to them as if they were human. Even the trees themselves had become like old friends and I knew each tree upon my tiny islet and felt grieved each time a limb was broken from one and took care to use only such wood and bark as I actually required for my needs. My garden of yams and limes had grown in size, for I devoted a great deal of time to weeding and pruning and carefully mulched the plants with seaweed and offal from the birds and fish I killed, and to prevent the destruction of my crops by another storm I had plaited a tough wall or fence around the garden and had trained strong vines over it.
The possession of vegetable food undoubtedly served to protect my life and health and prevent scurvy, and to vary my resources in this line I also cut and ate the young leaves and sprouts of the palms. The great crisp heart which is known to West Indians as "Mountain Cabbage" would have been a most welcome addition to my menu, but to cut this meant to destroy the tree, and I could ill-afford the loss of a single palm, as several had been felled in the hurricane and my supply of nuts was thus greatly curtailed.
I found my new occupation of writing a most pleasurable one and I spent a great portion of my time at my table during the early spring, and when the rainy season arrived and I was forced to remain indoors I knew that it would prove a most welcome means of employing my time. Each day that passed without sign of sail caused me to dwell more and more upon my chances of rescue, and these thoughts led me gradually to wonder if I could not manage to escape from the Key myself and make my way to some other island.
I spent many hours considering the matter from every point of view, and even thought seriously of attempting some sort of a boat. A dug-out could, I knew, be made by burning out a log, but this at best would require months of hard labour, and long before it was completed the rainy season would arrive and dangerous squalls and winds might swamp such a cranky craft. My mind next turned to a raft and, after a deal of consideration, I decided to construct a sort of catamaran or raft of Trumpet-tree trunks. Once my decision was reached I set diligently to work. A number of these light trees were cut down, rolled to the beach, and bound together with vine ropes, and day by day I saw my raft grow in size until I felt that very soon it would be large enough to float me in safety. I now realised that I might be unable to launch the raft when complete, and to overcome this difficulty I spent a long time gathering dead and strong sticks from which to construct a rough roadway to the water when occasion should arise, and after a deal of trouble I pried up my half-completed craft and placed skids and rollers beneath it.
The work was very slow, however, and I began to fear that if I set to sea in the raft at this season a hurricane might end my career, and so I decided to voluntarily remain until after the rainy and hurricane season had passed. I knew that, as a rule, the wind blew from my islet towards the east and other islands, but I remembered that when I came ashore a strong current flowed towards the Key and I feared that when I did embark I might find myself drifting out to sea instead of sailing towards my goal.
In order to determine the drift of any currents there might be, I decided to cast chips and sticks into the sea at different states of the tide and from different parts of the shore and by watching these I hoped to gain some definite idea of just how the currents flowed, as well as the best time at which to set out.
I SOON found that small chips were of little use, as they disappeared from my sight too soon to give me an idea of their drift, and I therefore set about to find some larger and more seaworthy objects. The odd, boat-shaped bud-covers of the palms attracted me and I then remembered that West Indian boys gathered these when green, sewed the ends together, and rigged them as tiny boats.
This solved the difficulty and I soon climbed a palm, cut off a number of the bud-covers, and was kept busy for some time sewing up the ends, stepping little masts, and fitting bits of bright cloth to them. Supplied with a small fleet of these natural boats, I set them adrift from my Key at intervals and was as tickled as a boy to see the brave way in which the little ships bore out to sea and away from my island towards the east.
Day after day I tried them and invariably they drifted off towards the distant islands and my fellow-men. How I longed to be sailing gaily in them and how sad I felt as I saw each little boat bob up and down and out of sight, while I sat helpless on the beach with only the chance of the perilous trip on my raft to carry me once more to civilisation.
Watching the boats and filled with such thoughts, I began to ponder on where these little boats would land, who I wondered would find them, and I smiled in spite of myself to think how surprised the finders would be if they could only guess whence they came and what a reward would be gladly given to the finder if only they would come to my salvation. Like a flash it dawned upon me that here was the very means to bring rescuers to my island; if the empty boats carried no inkling of my plight, why should they not carry a message which would tell of my exile and implore the finders to save me?
Feverishly I hurried to my house and set to work, cutting square bits of cloth from the small stock at my disposal and on each carefully printing a few words stating that I was shipwrecked on the Key and imploring the finder to rescue me. Fearing lest a mention of my ability to reward the finder might east discredit on the whole matter, I said nothing of reward, feeling assured that mere humanity would do as much as monetary rewards and hoping against hope that some one of the boats might fall into the hands of somebody who could read. This brought to my mind the thought that the message was just as apt to reach a Spanish, French, or Danish island as an English colony and, while the Danes could all read English, I decided to print each message in both Spanish, French, and English. Fearing that the sails bearing the message might be blown away or destroyed, I also wrote messages on pieces of cloth, which I placed within hollow reeds, which were then sealed with gum and fastened inside the boats.
A long time was occupied in this way and I hardly slept or ate, so anxious was I to start my messages forth on their travels.
Day after day I sent them forth, a prayer from my heart going with each, and finally, having exhausted my supply of palm-buds and having launched nearly a score of messages on the Caribbean, I again set myself to work upon my raft, for I still held to my decision to embark on this rude craft if help did not arrive at the end of the rainy season.
By August my raft was finished and I had nothing further to do save await a chance answer to my messages before embarking on my trip as soon as I was sure the hurricane season was over, which would now be in a few weeks.
As I was determined to leave, I felt that it was useless to do much more on the Key, and, knowing I could not carry my treasure with me, I again walled it up in my house and left but a small sack of ambergris and a bag of coins and jewels to take with me. These I felt would enable me to buy or charter a vessel in which to return to get the rest of my fortune if I reached civilisation and, having attended to this, I decided to devote my remaining days on the island to finishing my journal, which I had rather neglected while fitting out my boats and constructing my raft.
Day after day I sat writing at my table, only taking enough time to collect and cook my food, examine my signals, and keep my clothes in order, and day after day I gazed upon a sailless sea and felt more and more that my only chance lay in trusting my life to the raft.
Sometimes, if the weather was rainy or squally, I did not visit the lookout spots at all, for in such weather the sea was only visible for a few miles, and so accustomed had I grown to seeing no sign of ships that I had quite abandoned the idea of my messages ever reaching fellow-men, and my visits to the signals were made more as a matter of habit than anything else.
Thus, one rainy morning, having finished my breakfast and attended to my few duties about the house, I sat at my table busily scrawling across the rough leather when suddenly I leaped from my seat, dashed down my quill, and rushed from the hut, for booming in from seaward, loud, clear, and distinct, roared the screech of a steamship's siren!
Madly I rushed to the beach and, as I came within sight of the sea, I saw, less than a thousand yards off the shore, a great iron steamer, her dull and rusty sides rising and falling with the sea, her red-and-black funnel belching forth clouds of sooty smoke, and her two dull-orange spars cutting long arcs across the sky as she rolled in the heaving ground swell. Even as I gazed spellbound at the sight the chains roared through her hawse pipes, the anchor dropped with a mighty splash into the sea, she swung slowly round to the wind, and again her whistle bellowed out its message of help and civilisation across the Key.
Never had sweeter sound greeted my ears and, as I looked at the clumsy, weather-beaten old tramp, she seemed to my eyes the most stately and beautiful of ships. Wildly I danced and swung my arms; mad with joy, I capered and yelled and called until certainly those on board must have thought they were about to rescue a madman. This thought occurring to me, I controlled myself with an effort and stood quietly in plain sight on the beach while a boat was swung out from the davits. Into this clambered a couple of sailors and an officer, the boat was lowered away, and presently with flashing oars it headed towards me and came bobbing in to the beach.
At its approach I ran to the edge of the waves, and as the keel grated on the sand and the two grinning negro sailors sprang out and pulled it up from the surf, I dashed knee-deep into the water and, grasping the stout, ruddy-faced officer by both hands, I almost dragged him up the beach while pouring out an incoherent torrent of thanks and words of gratitude.
Seating ourselves beneath the palms, I rapidly told the Captain of my life on the island, and at the account of my treasure he seemed dumfounded, but willingly consented to get it aboard without delay and, calling to the men, he ordered them to row back to the ship and return with two more sailors and the second mate.
As they pulled away he related how he had picked up two of my message-bearing boats, which at first he had thought were merely jokes; how later on he had stopped at Guadeloupe and while there had heard of the Governor's yacht visiting the Key to claim it for France, and how the officer in charge, seeing a supposedly British flag upon a pole and a man waving his arms beside it, had turned about and steamed away without landing. This story, in connection with the messages, had convinced the captain that a man was cast away upon the Key, and as soon as his cargo was unloaded he had steamed full speed to my rescue.
Presently the small boat came dancing back to shore, and an hour later all my belongings were on board, and with solemn "Doc Pelican" on the thwart beside me we were rapidly pulling towards the ship.
Soon we were on board and, as the small boat was secured in its chocks, I hastened to change my outlandish garb for civilised clothing, and ere this was accomplished the winches roared and wheezed and the anchor rose dripping to the bows.
A jangle of a bell, the engines throbbed and rumbled, the screws churned the water into foam; slowly the ship swung round and headed towards the distant horizon, and my castaway life was over.
As I stood beside the captain on the bridge and watched the islet drop away behind us, a lump rose in my throat, for after all the Key had served me well and had been my only home for two long years. Raising my hand to the whistle cord, I drew it taut and, as the siren roared a hoarse farewell to the little Key, poor old "Doc," terrified at the unwonted sound, flapped his broad pinions and, launching forth from the rail, winged his way rapidly shoreward towards his beloved birthplace and its quiet woods and waters.