Part 17 (1/2)

We must now follow the fortunes of the boat commanded by t.i.te. He had been fortunate enough to secure a compa.s.s, which, though it did him little good while in the cave, would be of great a.s.sistance to him outside. The question as to how the entrance of the cave bore, and the surest way of gaining it, was of most importance now. t.i.te estimated that they were at least ten miles from it, and that by steering directly against the current, they could not fail to make it. After pulling steadily for four hours, stopping only once to refresh themselves, they came in sight of the entrance, and saw daylight beyond. A feeling of joy now came over the men, and three hearty cheers were given that echoed curiously through the arches overhead. Still there was another and serious obstacle to contend with. A boar, or tidal wave, had made at the entrance, and was rus.h.i.+ng in with a roaring noise and such force that the boat could not have stemmed it for a minute. It was therefore, necessary to seek safety behind some high rocks on one side of the entrance, and wait a change in the tide. After waiting in this position for nearly an hour they again put out, and headed for the entrance. A rapid current was still setting in, and the men had to pull with all their strength to stem it and gain the ocean.

When they had gained the ocean they felt as if they had been suddenly transferred to another world. After waiting several hours, and none of the other boats making their appearance, t.i.te headed his boat west and stood down the coast, close in sh.o.r.e, in the hope of finding a safe landing place, perhaps a friendly settlement. An almost perpendicular bluff of rocks, more than two hundred feet high, forming a walled coast, such as is seen in the Bay of Fundy, and at the foot of which the sea dashed and broke, rendering it impossible to make a landing, extended as far as the eye could reach. Along this frowning coast the boat swept until nightfall; but not a human being was seen, nor a place where they could land safely discovered.

Three days and three nights they coasted along this bold sea-wall, and now their provisions and water had given out, and such was their suffering from thirst, hunger, and cold, that two of the crew died from sheer exhaustion. Indeed, it was only extraordinary exertion on the part of t.i.te, and his manner of encouraging the others, that kept them from giving up in despair. Early on the morning of the fourth day an indentation in the land was discovered, sloping into a quiet little valley, a place of welcome to the weary, through which a stream of water winded down into the sea. Each heart now beat high with joy. Deliverance had come at last. The boat's head was directed toward the beach, but the wind had freshened, and a heavy surf was beating on sh.o.r.e, and unless the boat was skilfully handled there was great danger of swamping. Still the boat was kept on, and in less than half an hour from the time the beach was discovered the boat was plunging through the breakers.

On entering the surf an immense roller overtook the boat, lifted her high up on its crest, and, owing to some unskilful management, she was capsized. The crew were tossed into the boiling surf, and left to struggle with the receding waves for their lives. t.i.te's first thought was to secure the boat, and seizing hold of the line he made a desperate effort to gain the beach, and was successful, as were two of the men.

The others were too weak to make much of a resistance, and were carried away by the undercurrent, and nothing more was seen of them.



With only the drenched clothes they stood in, no means of lighting a fire, and death from starvation staring them in the face, these three s.h.i.+pwrecked men stood upon the beach of this strange island, still hoping and wondering what was to be the next change in their condition.

Was the island inhabited? By whom? What was the character of the natives, and what sort of reception would they meet when found? These were the questions which engaged their thoughts as they stood on that lonely beach, hoping against hope, and every minute fancying some friendly sail heaving in sight to relieve them from their perilous position. After the darkest night comes the brightest day. This was ever uppermost in t.i.te's mind, and he endeavored to impress its teachings on the minds of his companions, who were fast yielding to their fears, and would have given up in despair had not his stronger resolution encouraged them still to hope for deliverance.

There was an abundance of small sh.e.l.l-fish along the coast, and on these they subsisted. It was agreed to remain near the boat during the day, as a precaution against an attack from the natives, who might have seen them approach the coast, and perhaps be watching their movements near by. But the day pa.s.sed and not a human being was seen. At nightfall a couple of goats and a pig, and some fowl that appeared to be keeping them company, emerged from a thicket on a hillside, descended into a valley or ravine, and drank in the brook. The sight of these animals filled the hearts of the s.h.i.+pwrecked men with joy. It was to them a proof of civilization. New hopes, new joys, new strength came with the sight of these animals; and they advanced cautiously toward them. But the animals were shy, and scampered away up the hill at the first sight of the strangers.

There was a high hill near by, and, encouraged by the sight of these animals, t.i.te started off just at dusk to ascend it and survey the surrounding country, leaving his comrades on the beach to guard the boat. It was quite dark when t.i.te reached the top, but the stars were out, and the atmosphere was clear. Not a habitation was to be seen, nothing but a wild, unbroken forest as far as the eye could reach. He watched there for an hour or more, his eyes quickened by anxiety, and his mind becoming more and more excited, until his fancy pictured in every shadow some moving object. Then, as his eye traced along down the deep ravine, he discovered, or rather thought he discovered, a pale wreath of smoke curling lazily upward, not more than a mile from where his comrades lay. What at first seemed only a fancy, now became a reality, for the smoke increased in volume, and indicated with certainty a habitation of some kind.

Descending the hill as quickly as he could, he found the two men fast asleep, overcome with fatigue and excitement, and it was with great difficulty that he could awake them. When, however, he told them what he had discovered, their hearts filled with joy, and they sprang to their feet ready to follow him. Still they entertained a lurking fear that the smoke might mark the bivouac of some savages who had watched their movements during the day, and lighted this fire to cook the evening meal.

They followed the stream about two miles up the ravine, picking their way over rocks and through a thick wood, until they came to a little gurgling brook, cutting its way through a deep dell running at right angles with the ravine. Here they rested for a short time, and carefully surveyed the scene, excited by strange thoughts. A light suddenly flashed from the opposite bank, not more than forty yards ahead. This evidently marked the object of their search. Then those familiar sounds made by goats, fowls, and pigs were heard. Crossing the dell they advanced cautiously in the direction of the light. They had not gone far, however, when an opening in the woods was discovered, in the centre of which a small, rude cabin, built of stones and mud, stood. A bright fire was burning inside, smoke was issuing from the rude chimney, and the light s.h.i.+ning through two square openings in the sides, was reflecting curiously over the scene outside.

Again the three men halted, and stood viewing the scene in silence, now hoping, now fearing, now wondering what sort of beings inhabited this strange place. Still the domestic animals kept up those noises, so familiar to t.i.te's ear when at home. And these were broken at intervals by what seemed the barking of a wolf. Now a strange and shadowy figure pa.s.sed and repa.s.sed in the cabin, its uncouth form reflecting every few seconds in the light. Should they advance, enter the cabin, and see who this strange being was, or return to the beach and wait until morning?

This was the question which occupied their thoughts now. Impelled as well, perhaps, by anxiety as necessity, t.i.te resolved to push on to the very door. Leaving the men with orders to follow him at a short distance, he proceeded on cautiously until he reached the edge of the opening in which the cabin stood.

He was now within a few paces of the door, when the fowls, which seemed to abound in the vicinity, discovering him, sounded the alarm. The cabin door now opened, and there stood, in the shadow of the light, the figure of an old man bent with age, and dressed in the skin of a wolf, the long fur of which gave him more the appearance of an animal than a human being. His face was like colored parchment, his mouth and cheeks wrinkled and sunken, his eyes small, black and bright, his long, white hair and flowing beard, his bony hands, which he raised every few moments and held over his long white eyelashes, as a s.h.i.+eld to his sight, gave him a strange and witch-like appearance.

There the two men, the figure in the door and t.i.te, stood for several minutes gazing in silence, but with a look of astonishment, at each other. The animals and fowls had gathered in a group about the old man, alarmed at the sight of a stranger. At length a thin, shrill voice broke the silence by enquiring: ”Who is it that comes here to disturb my peace?”

”We are friends,” replied t.i.te, ”s.h.i.+pwrecked sailors, in search of shelter and food.”

[Ill.u.s.tration: The cabin door now opened, and there stood, in the shadow of the light, the figure of an old man bent with age, and dressed in the skin of a wolf. Page 216.]

”Heaven pity you, and forgive me,” returned the old man, his eyes beaming brighter and his whole manner becoming more earnest. ”Heaven forgive me, you shall have both, and be welcome in my palace. Heaven forgive me, for this is my palace and I am king of this island. Come in, and such as I have you shall share with me.” And he advanced, took t.i.te by the hand, and led him into his cabin, the two men following.

Spreading seal and wolf skins on the floor, he bid them be seated, while he prepared food for their supper. His motion was a shuffle rather than a walk, and he moved about the cabin more like an animal than a human being. He seemed to have an abundant supply of dried fish, fowl, and fruit; of vegetables and roots, from which he made a beverage that filled the place of coffee. And with these and some goat's milk he soon set before them a supper, saying as he invited them to partake, ”Heaven forgive me for all my sins, and they are many. Your are countrymen of my own, and speak the same language. Ah, I had almost forgotten it, as the world has forgotten me. Now it all comes back, and makes me feel happy.

I am old, very old now. Heaven forgive me. There will be no more of poor old George Dunman soon. When he dies he will die with great sins on his head. If sin can be washed out with sorrow, Heaven knows I have had sorrow enough.” He advanced towards t.i.te, and laying his hand gently on his shoulder, looked earnestly and intently into his face: ”you are young, very young,” he said, ”crime has made no wrinkles in your face yet. Mine is full of age and crime, and a heart filled with remorse, have burned their deep seals into mine. Look you, young man,” and he pointed to his eyes, ”these eyes were not made to weep. But this poor heart of mine is crushed with its crimes.” Here he pressed his right hand to his heart, and raised his eyes upwards, as if imploring Heaven's forgiveness in silence.

This continued invoking Heaven's forgiveness excited t.i.te's curiosity to know something of the old man's strange and wonderful history, for he already began to feel that there was a terrible crime at the bottom of it. When they had partaken of supper and were all seated around the fire on their skins, and nothing but the music of the brook was heard outside, the old man requested t.i.te to give him an account of his voyage, together with the place and manner of their s.h.i.+pwreck. t.i.te was glad to comply with the old man's request, for it afforded him an excellent excuse for making a similar one.

The reader has already been made familiar with t.i.te's unfortunate voyage, hence it will not be necessary to repeat it. The recital interested the old man deeply, and when he had reached that part which described their troubles in the cave, the old man's eyes sparkled, and his whole nature seemed to warm into enthusiasm.

”There's where my s.h.i.+p lays, guns and all,” he said, pressing his hands on his knees. ”My men used to call this island 'No Man's Island,' and they named that place 'The Cave of Enchantment.' Then they named it after me. The natives on an island ten leagues from this have a queer superst.i.tion concerning it. They call it the devil's last resting place, and a.s.sert that it is peopled by mermaids, who get honest navigators into it, and then destroy them. My s.h.i.+p lays there, guns and all,” he repeated.

When t.i.te had finished his story, the old man began his by saying: ”Heaven forgive me, for I am a great sinner, and have much to answer for in the next world. I was born in Bristol, England. My father was a clergyman of the established church. I have no remembrance of my mother, for she died when I was an infant. When I was fifteen years old I was sent to sea as a means of bettering my morals. I served first on board an Indiaman, made two voyages to China, and was wrecked on the coast of Malabar; and when I got home my father or friends procured me the position of mids.h.i.+pman on board a man-of-war. I served on board the frigate Winchester, and other of His Majesty's s.h.i.+ps, I did, for fifteen years, and was only a mids.h.i.+pman at the end. Heaven forgive me for my sins. It seemed there was no promotion for me. I was then transferred to His Majesty's packet service, and a.s.signed to the brig Storm, carrying six guns, and the mails between Plymouth and the North American provinces. She was a beauty of a craft, that Storm was. She used to carry a crowd of canvas, and jump the seas like a sea-bird. I was four years first officer of that craft, was proud of what she could do, and the devil took advantage of my ambition, and created within me a longing to be in command of her, and make myself heroic by roaming unrestrained on the free sea. That feeling kept increasing until it become a pa.s.sion with me. Then it was my misfortune to fall in love. Yes, love was a misfortune to me. I had courted and was engaged to the daughter of a rich old man who had made all his money in the West Indies, and still had plantations there.

”We were to be married on my return, after a voyage to North America.