Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
On the morning that followed this memorable night, our personages seemed to change characters. Hazel sat down before the relics of the hut--three or four strings dangling, and a piece of network waving--and eyed them with shame, regret and humiliation. He was so absorbed in his self-reproaches that he did not hear a light footstep, and Helen Rolleston stood near him a moment or two, and watched the play of his countenance with a very inquisitive and kindly light in her own eyes.
"Never mind," said she, soothingly.
Hazel started at the music.
"Never mind your house being blown to atoms, and mine has stood?" said he, half reproachfully.
"You took too much pains with mine."
"I will take a great deal more with the next."
"I hope not. But I want you to come and look at the havoc. It is terrible; and yet so grand." And thus she drew him away from the sight that caused his pain.
They entered the wood by a path Hazel had cut from the sea-shore, and viewed the devastation in Terrapin Wood. Prostrate trees lay across one another in astonishing numbers, and in the strangest positions; and their glorious plumes swept the earth. "Come," said she, "it is a bad thing for the poor trees, but not for us. See, the place is strewed with treasures. Here is a tree full of fans all ready made. And what is that? A horse's tail growing on a cocoa-tree! and a long one, too! that will make ropes for you, and thread for me. Ah, and here is a cabbage. Poor Mr. Welch! Well, for one thing, you need never saw nor climb any more. See the advantages of a hurricane."
From the wood she took him to the shore, and there they found many birds lying dead; and Hazel picked up several that he had read of as good to eat. For certain signs had convinced him his fair and delicate companion was carnivorous, and must be nourished accordingly. Seeing him so employed, she asked him archly whether he was beginning to see the comforts of a hurricane. "Not yet," said he; "the account is far from even."
"Then come to where the rock was blown down." She led the way gayly across the sands to a point where an overhanging crag had fallen, with two trees and a quantity of earth and plants that grew above it. But, when they got nearer, she became suddenly grave, and stood still. The mass had fallen upon a sheltered place, where seals were hiding from the wind, and had buried several; for two or three limbs were sticking out, of victims overwhelmed in the ruin; and a magnificent sea-lion lay clear of the smaller rubbish, but quite dead. The cause was not far to seek; a ton of hard rock had struck him, and then ploughed up the sand in a deep furrow, and now rested within a yard or two of the animal, whose back it had broken. Hazel went up to the creature and looked at it; then he came to Helen. She was standing aloof. "Poor bugbear," said he. "Come away; it is an ugly sight for you."
"Oh, yes," said Helen. Then, as they returned, "Does not that reconcile you to the loss of a hut? We are not blown away nor crushed."
"That is true," said Hazel; "but suppose your health should suffer from the exposure to such fearful weather. So unlucky! so cruel! just as you were beginning to get stronger."
"I am all the better for it. Shall I tell you? excitement is a good thing; not too often, of course; but now and then; and, when we are in the humor for it, it is meat and drink and medicine to us."
"What! to a delicate young lady?"
"Ay, 'to a delicate young lady.' Last night has done me a world of good. It has shaken me out of myself. I am in better health and spirits. Of course I am very sorry the hut is blown down--because you took so much trouble to build it; but, on my own account, I really don't care a straw. Find me some corner to nestle in at night, and all day I mean to be about, and busy as a bee, helping you, and-- Breakfast! breakfast! Oh, how hungry I am." And this spirited girl led the way to the boat with a briskness and a vigor that charmed and astonished him.
Souvent femme vane.
This gracious behavior did not blind Hazel to the serious character of the situation, and all breakfast-time he was thinking and thinking, and often kept a morsel in his mouth, and forgot to eat it for several seconds, he was so anxious and puzzled. At last he said, "I know a large hollow tree with apertures. If I were to close them all but one, and keep that for the door? No: trees have betrayed me; I'll never trust another tree with you. Stay; I know, I know--a cavern." He uttered the verb rather loudly, but the substantive with a sudden feebleness of intonation that was amusing. His timidity was superfluous; if he had said he knew "a bank whereon the wild thyme grows," the suggestion would have been well received that morning.
"A cavern!" cried Helen. "It has always been the dream of my life to live in a cavern."
Hazel brightened up. But the next moment he clouded again. "But I forgot. It will not do; there is a spring running right through it; it comes down nearly perpendicular through a channel it has bored, or enlarged; and splashes on the floor."
"How convenient!" said Helen; "now I shall have a bath in my room, instead of having to go miles for it. By the by, now you have invented the shower-bath, please discover soap. Not that one really wants any in this island; for there is no dust, and the very air seems purifying. But who can shake off the prejudices of early education?"
Hazel said, "Now I'll laugh as much as you like, when once this care is off my mind."
He ran off to the cavern, and found it spacious and safe; but the spring was falling in great force, and the roof of the cave glistening with moisture. It looked a hopeless case. But if necessity is the mother of Invention, surely Love is the father. He mounted to the rock above, and found the spot where the spring suddenly descended into the earth with the loudest gurgle he had ever heard; a gurgle of defiance. Nothing was to be done there. But he traced it upward a little way, and found a place where it ran beside a deep decline. "Aha, my friend!" said he. He got his spade, and with some hours' hard work dug it a fresh channel and carried it away entirely from its course. He returned to the cavern. Water was dripping very fast; but, on looking up, he could see the light of day twinkling at the top of the spiral water course he had robbed of its supply. Then he conceived a truly original idea. Why not turn his empty watercourse into a chimney, and so give to one element what he had taken from another? He had no time to execute this just then, for the tide was coming in, and he could not afford to lose any one of those dead animals. So he left the funnel to drip, that being a process he had no means of expediting, and moored the sea-lion to the very rock that had killed him, and was proceeding to dig out the seals, when a voice he never could hear without a thrill summoned him to dinner.
It was a plentiful repast, and included roast pintado and cabbage-palm. Helen Rolleston informed him during dinner that he would no longer be allowed to monopolize the labor attendant upon their condition.
"No," said she, "you are always working for me, and I shall work for you. Cooking and washing are a woman's work, not a man's; and so are plaiting and netting."
This healthy resolution once formed was adhered to with a constancy that belonged to the girl's character. The roof of the ruined hut came ashore in the bay that evening, and was fastened over the boat. Hazel lighted a bonfire in the cavern, and had the satisfaction of seeing some of the smoke issue above. But he would not let Miss Rolleston occupy it yet. He shifted her things to the boat and slept in the cave himself. However, he lost no time in laying down a great hearth, and built a fireplace and chimney in the cave. The chimney went up to the hole in the arch of the cave; then came the stone funnel, stolen from Nature; and above, on the upper surface of the cliff, came the chimney-pot. Thus the chimney acted like a German stove: it stood in the center, and soon made the cavern very dry and warm, and a fine retreat during the rains. When it was ready for occupation, Helen said she would sail to it: she would not go by land; that was too tame for her. Hazel had only to comply with her humor, and at high water they got into the boat, and went down the river into the sea with a rush that made Helen wince. He soon rowed her across the bay to a point distant not more than fifty yards from the cavern, and installed her. But he never returned to the river; it was an inconvenient place to make excursions from; and besides, all his work was now either in or about the cavern; and that convenient hurricane, as Helen called it, not only made him a builder again; it also made him a currier, a soap-boiler, and a salter. So they drew the boat just above high-water mark in a sheltered nook, and he set up his arsenal ashore.
In this situation, day glided by after day, and week after week, in vigorous occupations, brightened by social intercourse, and in some degree by the beauty and the friendship of the animals. Of all this industry we can only afford a brief summary. Hazel fixed two uprights at each side of the cavern's mouth, and connected each pair by a beam; a netting laid on these, and, covered with gigantic leaves from the prostrate palms, made a sufficient roof in this sheltered spot. On this terrace they could sit even in the rain, and view the sea. Helen cooked in the cave, but served dinner up on this beautiful terrace. So now she had a But and a Ben, as the Scotch say. He got a hogshead of oil from the sea-lion; and so the cave was always lighted now, and that was a great comfort, and gave them more hours of indoor employment and conversation. The poor bugbear really brightened their existence. Of the same oil, boiled down and mixed with wood-ashes, he made soap, to Helen's great delight. The hide of this animal was so thick he could do nothing with it but cut off pieces to make the soles of shoes, if required. But the seals were miscellaneous treasures. He contrived with guano and aromatics to curry their skins; of their bladders he made vile parchment, and of their entrails gut, cat-gut and twine, beyond compare. He salted two cubs, and laid up the rest in store, by inclosing large pieces in clay. When these were to be used, the clay was just put into hot embers for some hours, then broken, and the meat eaten with all its juices preserved.
Helen cooked and washed, and manufactured salt; and collected quite a store of wild cotton, though it grew very sparingly and it cost her hours to find a few pods. But in hunting for it she found other things--health, for one. After sunset she was generally employed a couple of hours on matters which occupy the fair in every situation of life. She made herself a sealskin jacket and pork-pie hat. She made Mr. Hazel a man's cap of sealskin with a point. But her great work was with the cotton, which will be described hereafter.
However, for two hours after sunset, no more (they rose at peep of day), her physician allowed her to sit and work; which she did, and often smiled, while he sat by and discoursed to her of all the things he had read, and surprised himself by the strength and activity of his memory. He attributed it partly to the air of the island. Nor were his fingers idle even at night. He had tools to sharpen for the morrow, glass to make and polish out of a laminated crystal he had found. And then the hurricane had blown away, among many properties, his map; so he had to make another with similar materials. He completed the map in due course, and gave it to Helen. It was open to the same strictures she had passed on the other. Hazel was no chartographer. Yet this time she had nothing but praise for it. How was that?
* * * * * * *
To the reader it is now presented, not as a specimen of chartographic art, but as a little curiosity in its way, being a fac-simile of the map John Hazel drew for Helen Rolleston with such out-of-the-way materials as that out-of-the-way island afforded.
Above all, it will enable the reader to follow our personages in their little excursions past and future, and also to trace the course of a mysterious event we have to record.
Relieved of other immediate cares, Hazel's mind had time to dwell upon the problem. Helen had set him; and one fine day a conviction struck him that he had taken a narrow and puerile view of it, and that, after all, there must be in the nature of things some way to attract ships from a distance. Possessed with this thought, he went up to Telegraph Point, abstracted his mind from all external objects, and fixed it on this idea--but came down as he went. He descended by some steps he had cut zigzag for Helen's use, and as he put his foot on the fifth step--whoo--whirr--whiz--came nine ducks, cooling his head, they whizzed so close; and made right for the lagoons.
"Hum!" thought Hazel; "I never see you ducks fly in any other direction but that."
This speculation rankled in him all night, and he told Helen he should reconnoiter at daybreak, but should not take her, as there might be snakes. He made the boat ready at daybreak, and certain gannets, pintadoes, boobies, and noddies, and divers with eyes in their heads like fiery jewels--birds whose greedy maws he had often gratified--chose to fancy he must be going a-fishing, and were on the alert, and rather troublesome. However, he got adrift, and ran out through North Gate, with a light westerly breeze, followed by a whole fleet of birds. These were joined in due course by another of his satellites, a young seal he called Tommy, also fond of fishing.
The feathered convoy soon tailed off; but Tommy stuck to him for about eight miles. He ran that distance to have a nearer look at a small island which lay due north of Telegraph Point. He satisfied himself it was little more than a very long, large reef, the neighborhood of which ought to be avoided by ships of burden, and, resolving to set some beacon or other on it ere long, he christened it White Water Island, on account of the surf. He came about and headed for the East Bluff.
Then Tommy gave him up in disgust; perhaps thought his conduct vacillating. Animals all despise that.
He soon landed almost under the volcano, and moored his boat not far from a cliff peaked with guano. Exercising due caution this time, he got up to the lagoons, and found a great many ducks swimming about. He approached little parties to examine their varieties. They all swam out his way; some of them even flew a few yards, and then settled. Not one would let him come within forty yards. This convinced Hazel the ducks were not natives of the island, but strangers, who were not much afraid, because they had never been molested on this particular island; but still distrusted man.
While he pondered thus, there was a great noise of wings, and about a dozen ducks flew over his head on the rise, and passed westward still rising till they got into the high currents, and away upon the wings of the wind for distant lands.
The grand rush of their wings, and the off-hand way in which they spurned, abandoned and disappeared from an island that held him tight, made Hazel feel very small. His thoughts took the form of satire. "Lords of the creation, are we? We sink in water; in air we tumble; on earth we stumble."
These pleasing reflections did not prevent his taking their exact line of flight, and barking a tree to mark it. He was about to leave the place when he heard a splashing not far from him, and there was a duck jumping about on the water in a strange way. Hazel thought a snake had got hold of her, and ran to her assistance. He took her out of the water and soon found what was the matter; her bill was open, and a fish's tail was sticking out. Hazel inserted his finger and dragged out a small fish which had erected the spines on its back so opportunely as nearly to kill its destroyer. The duck recovered enough to quack in a feeble and dubious manner. Hazel kept her for Helen, because she was a plain brown duck. With some little reluctance he slightly shortened one wing, and stowed away his captive in the hold of the boat.
He happened to have a great stock of pitch in the boat, so he employed a few hours in writing upon the guano rocks. On one he wrote in huge letters:
AN ENGLISH LADY WRECKED HERE. HASTE TO HER RESCUE.
On another he wrote in small letters:
BEWARE THE REEFS ON THE NORTH SIDE. LIE OFF FOR SIGNALS.
Then he came home and beached the boat, and brought Helen his captive.
"Why, it is an English duck!" she cried, and was enraptured.
By this visit to the lagoons, Hazel gathered that this island was a half-way house for migrating birds, especially ducks; and he inferred that the line those vagrants had taken was the shortest way from this island to the nearest land. This was worth knowing, and set his brain working. He begged Helen to watch for the return of the turtle-doves (they had all left the island just before the rain), and learn, if possible, from what point of the compass they arrived.
The next expedition was undertaken to please Helen; she wished to examine the beautiful creeks and caves on the north side, which they had seen from a distance when they sailed round the island.
They started on foot one delightful day, and walked briskly, for the air, though balmy, was exhilarating. They followed the course of the river till they came to the lake that fed it, and was fed itself by hundreds of little natural gutters down which the hills discharged the rains. This was new to Helen, though not to Hazel. She produced the map, and told the lake slyly that it was incorrect, a little too big. She took some of the water in her hand, sprinkled the lake with it, and called it Hazelmere. They bore a little to the right, and proceeded till they found a creek shaped like a wedge, at whose broad end shone an arch of foliage studded with flowers, and the sparkling blue water peeped behind. This was tempting, but the descent was rather hazardous at first; great square blocks of rock one below another, and these rude steps were coated with mosses of rich hue, but wet and slippery; Hazel began to be alarmed for his companion. However, after one or two difficulties, the fissure opened wider to the sun, and they descended from the slimy rocks into a sloping hot-bed of exotic flowers, and those huge succulent leaves that are the glory of the tropics. The ground was carpeted a yard deep with their luxuriance, and others, more aspiring, climbed the warm sides of the diverging cliffs, just as creepers go up a wall, lining every crevice as they rose. In this blessed spot, warmed, but not scorched, by the tropical sun, and fed with trickling waters, was seen what marvels "boon Nature" can do. Here our vegetable dwarfs were giants and our flowers were trees. One lovely giantess of the jasmine tribe, but with flowers shaped like a marigold, and scented like a tube-rose, had a stem as thick as a poplar, and carried its thousand buds and amber-colored flowers up eighty feet of broken rock, and planted on every ledge suckers, that flowered again and filled the air with perfume. Another tree about half as high was covered with a cascade of snow-white tulips, each as big as a small flower-pot, and scented like honeysuckle. An aloe, ten feet high, blossomed in a corner, unheeded among loftier beauties. And at the very mouth of the fissure a huge banana leaned across, and flung out its vast leaves, that seemed translucent gold against the sun; under it shone a monstrous cactus in all her pink and crimson glory, and through the maze of color streamed the deep blue of the peaceful ocean, laughing, and catching sunbeams.
Helen leaned against the cliff and quivered with delight, and that deep sense of flowers that belongs to your true woman.
Hazel feared she was ill.
"Ill?" said she. "Who could be ill here? It is heaven upon earth. Oh, you dears! Oh, you loves! And they all seemed growing on the sea, and floating in the sun."
"And it is only one of a dozen such," said Hazel. "If you would like to inspect them at your leisure, I'll just run to Palm-tree Point; for my signal is all askew. I saw that as we came along."
Helen assented readily, and he ran off, but left her the provisions. She was not to wait dinner for him.
Helen examined two or three of the flowery fissures, and found fresh beauties in each, and also some English leaves, that gave her pleasure of another kind; and, after she had reveled in the flowers, she examined the shore, and soon discovered that the rocks which abounded here (though there were also large patches of clear sand) were nearly all pure coral, in great variety. Red coral was abundant; and even the pink coral, to which fashion was just then giving a fictitious value, was there by the ton. This interested her, and so did some beautiful shells that lay sparkling. The time passed swiftly; and she was still busy in her researches, when suddenly it darkened a little, and, looking back, she saw a white vapor stealing over the cliff, and curling down.
Upon this she thought it prudent to return to the place where Hazel had left her; the more so as it was near sunset.
The vapor descended and spread and covered sea and land. Then the sun set; and it was darkness visible. Coming from the south, the sea-fret caught Hazel sooner and in a less favorable situation. Returning from the palm-tree, he had taken the shortest cut through a small jungle, and been so impeded by the scrub, that, when he got clear, the fog was upon him. Between that and the river he lost his way several times, and did not hit the river till near midnight. He followed the river to the lake, and coasted the lake, and then groped his way toward the creek
But, after a while, every step he took was fraught with danger; and the night was far advanced when he at last hit off the creek, as he thought. He halloed; but there was no reply; halloed again, and, to his joy, her voice replied; but at a distance.
He had come to the wrong creek. She was farther westward. He groped his way westward, and came to another creek. He haloed to her, and she answered him. But to attempt the descent would have been mere suicide. She felt that herself, and almost ordered him to stay where he was.
"Why, we can talk all the same," said she; "and it is not for long."
It was a curious position, and one typical of the relation between them. So near together, yet the barrier so strong.
"I am afraid you must be very cold," said he.
"Oh, no; I have my seal-skin jacket on; and it is so sheltered here. I wish you were as well off."
"You are not afraid to be alone down there?"
"I am not alone when your voice is near me. Now don't you fidget yourself, dear friend. I like these little excitements. I have told you so before. Listen. How calm and silent it all is; the place; the night! The mind seems to fill with great ideas, and to feel its immortality."
She spoke with solemnity, and he heard in silence.
Indeed it was a reverend time and place. The sea, whose loud and penetrating tongue had, in some former age, created the gully where they both sat apart, had of late years receded and kissed the sands gently that calm night; so gently, that its long, low murmur seemed but the echo of tranquillity.
The voices of that pair sounded supernatural, one speaking up, and the other down, the speakers quite invisible.
"Mr. Hazel," said Helen, in a low, earnest voice; "they say that night gives wisdom even to the wise; think now, and tell me your true thoughts. Has the foot of man ever trod upon this island before?"
There was a silence due to a question so grave, and put with solemnity, at a solemn time, in a solemn place.
At last Hazel's thoughtful voice came down. "The world is very, very, very old. So old, that the words 'Ancient History' are a falsehood, and Moses wrote but as yesterday. And man is a very old animal upon this old, old planet; and has been everywhere. I cannot doubt he has been here."
Her voice went up. "But have you seen any signs?"
His voice came down. "I have not looked for them. The bones and the weapons of primeval man are all below earth's surface at this time of day."
There was a dead silence. Then Helen's voice went up again. "But in modern times? Has no man landed here from far-off places, since ships were built?"
The voice came sadly down. "I do not know."
The voice went up. "But think!"
The voice came down. "What calamity can be new in a world so old as this? Everything we can do, and suffer, others of our race have done, and suffered."
The voice went up. "Hush! there's something moving on the sand."
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.