On a certain morning, not very long ago, the sun, according to hisancient and admirable custom, rose at a very early hour, and casting hisbright beams far and wide over the Pacific, lighted up the yellow sandsand the verdant hills of one of the loveliest of the islands of thatmighty sea.
It was early morning, as we have said, and there was plenty of life--animal as well as vegetable--to be seen on land and sea, and in thewarm, hazy atmosphere. But there were no indications of man's presencein that beautiful scene. The air was perfectly calm, yet the gentleswell of the ocean terminated in great waves, which came rolling in likewalls of glass, and fell on the coral-reef like rushing snow-wreathswith a roar as loud as thunder.
Thousands of sea-birds screamed and circled in the sky. Fish leapedhigh out of their native element into the air, as if they wished tocatch the gulls, while the gulls, seemingly smitten with a similardesire, dived into the water as if they wished to catch the fish. Itmight have been observed, however, that while the fish never succeededin catching the gulls, the latter very frequently caught the fish, and,without taking the trouble to kill them, bolted them down alive.
Cocoanut-palms cast the shadows of their long stems and graceful topsupon the beach, while, farther inland, a dense forest of tropicalplants--bread-fruit trees, bananas, etcetera--rose up themountain-sides. Here and there open patches might be seen, that lookedlike fields and lawns, but there were no cottages or villas. Droves ofpigs rambled about the valleys and on the hill-sides, but they were wildpigs. No man tended them. The bread-fruits, the cocoanuts, thebananas, the plantains, the plums, all were beautiful and fit for food,but no man owned them or used them, for, like many other spots in thatsea of coral isles and savage men, the island was uninhabited.
In all the wide expanse of ocean that surrounded that island, there wasnothing visible save one small, solitary speck on the far-off horizon.It might have been mistaken for a seagull, but it was in reality araft--a mass of spars and planks rudely bound together with ropes. Aboat's mast rose from the centre of it, on which hung a rag of sail, anda small red flag drooped motionless from its summit. There were a fewcasks on the highest part of the raft, but no living soul was visible.Nevertheless, it was not without tenants. In a hollow between two ofthe spars, under the shadow of one of the casks, lay the form of a man.The canvas trousers, cotton shirt, blue jacket, and open necktie,bespoke him a sailor, but it seemed as though there were nothing leftsave the dead body of the unfortunate tar, so pale and thin and ghastlywere his features. A terrier dog lay beside him, so shrunken that itlooked like a mere scrap of door-matting. Both man and dog wereapparently dead, but they were not so in reality, for, after lying aboutan hour quite motionless, the man slowly opened his eyes.
Ah, reader, it would have touched your heart to have seen those eyes!They were so deep set, as if in dark caverns, and so unnaturally large.They gazed round in a vacant way for a few moments, until they fell onthe dog. Then a gleam of fire shot through them, and their owner raisedhis large, gaunt, wasted frame on one elbow, while he gazed with a lookof eagerness, which was perfectly awful, at his dumb companion.
"Not dead _yet_!" he said, drawing a long sigh.
There was a strange, incongruous mixture of satisfaction and discontentin the remark, which was muttered in a faint whisper.
Another gleam shot through the large eyes. It was not a pleasant look.Slowly, and as if with difficulty, the man drew a clasp-knife from hispocket, and opened it. As he did so, his brows lowered and his teethbecame clenched. It was quite plain what he meant to do. As he heldthe open knife over the dog's head, he muttered, "Am I to die for thesake of a _dog_!"
Either the terrier's slumbers had come to an end naturally, at afortunate moment, or the master's voice had awakened it, for it openedits eyes, raised its head, and looked up in the sailor's face. The handwith the knife drooped a little. The dog rose and licked it. Hungerhad done its work on the poor creature, for it could hardly stand, yetit managed to look in its master's face with that grave, simple gaze ofself-forgetting love, which appears to be peculiar to the canine race.The savage glare of the seaman's eyes vanished. He dropped the knife.
"Thanks, Cuffy; thanks for stoppin' me. It would have been _murder_!No, no, my doggie, you and I shall die together."
His voice sank into a murmur, partly from weakness and partly from theideas suggested by his concluding words.
"Die together!" he repeated, "surely it ain't come to that _yet_. Wot,John Jarwin, you're not goin' to give in like that, are you? to hauldown your colours on a fine day with a clear sky like this overhead?Come, cheer up, lad; you're young and can hold out a good while yet.Hey, old dog, wot say _you_?"
The dog made a motion that would, in ordinary circumstances, haveresulted in the wagging of its tail, but the tail was powerless torespond.
At that moment a gull flew towards the raft; Jarwin watched it eagerlyas it approached. "Ah," he muttered, clasping his bony hand as tightlyover his heart as his strength would allow and addressing the gull, "ifI only had hold of _you_, I'd tear you limb from limb, and drink yourblood!"
He watched the bird intently as it flew straight over him. Leaningback, he continued slowly to follow its flight, until his head rested onthe block of wood which had served him for a pillow. The support feltagreeable, he forgot the gull, closed his eyes, and sank with a deepsigh into a slumber that strongly resembled death.
Presently he awoke with a start, and, once more raising himself, gazedround upon the sea. No ship was to be seen. How often he had gazedround the watery circle with the same anxious look only to meet withdisappointment! The hills of the coral island were visible like a bluecloud on the horizon, but Jarwin's eyes were too dim and worn out toobserve them.
"Come," he exclaimed, suddenly, scrambling to his feet, "rouse up,Cuffy; you an' I ain't a-goin' to die without a good fight for life.Come along, my hearty; we'll have another glass of grog--Adam's grog itis, but it has been good grog to you an' me, doggie--an' then we shallhave another inspection o' the locker; mayhap there's the half of acrumb left."
The comparatively cheery tone in which the sailor said this seemed toinvigorate the dog, for it rose and actually succeeded in wriggling itstail as it staggered after its master--indubitable sign of hope and lovenot yet subdued!
Jarwin went to a cask which still contained a small quantity of freshwater. Three weeks before the point at which we take up his story, astorm had left him and his dog the sole survivors on the raft of thecrew of a barque which had sprung a leak, and gone to the bottom. Hisprovision at the time was a very small quantity of biscuit and a cask offresh water. Several days before this the last biscuit had beenconsumed but the water had not yet failed. Hitherto John Jarwin hadhusbanded his provisions, but now, feeling desperate, he drank deeply ofthe few remaining drops of that liquid which, at the time, was almost asvital to him as his life-blood. He gave a full draught also to thelittle dog.
"Share and share alike, doggie," he said, patting its head, as iteagerly lapped up the water; "but there's no wittles, Cuffy, an' yedon't care for baccy, or ye should be heartily welcome to a quid."
So saying, the sailor supplied his own cheek with a small piece of hisfavourite weed, and stood up on the highest part of the raft to surveythe surrounding prospect. He did so without much hope, for "hopedeferred" had at last made his heart sick. Suddenly his wandering gazebecame fixed and intense. He shaded his eyes with one hand, andsteadied himself against the mast with the other. There could be nodoubt of it! "Land ho!" he shouted, with a degree of strength thatsurprised himself, and even drew from Cuffy the ghost of a bark. On thestrength of the discovery Jarwin and his dumb friend immediately treatedthemselves to another glass of Adam's grog.
But poor Jarwin had his patience further tried. Hours passed away, andstill the island seemed as far off as ever. Night drew on, and itgradually faded from his view. But he had unquestionably seen land; so,with this to comfort him, the starving tar lay down beside his dog tospend another night--as he had already spent many days and nights--acastaway on the wide ocean.
Morning dawned, and the sailor rose with difficulty. He had forgotten,for a moment, the discovery of land on the previous night, but it wasbrought suddenly to his remembrance by the roar of breakers near athand. Turning in the direction whence the sound came, he beheld anisland quite close to him, with heavy "rollers" breaking furiously onthe encircling ring of the coral-reef. The still water between the reefand the shore, which was about a quarter of a mile wide, reflected everytree and crag of the island, as if in a mirror. It was a grand, aglorious sight, and caused Jarwin's heart to swell with emotions that hehad never felt before; but his attention was quickly turned to a dangerwhich was imminent, and which seemed to threaten the total destructionof his raft, and the loss of his life.
A very slight breeze--a mere zephyr--which had carried him during thenight towards the island, was now bearing him straight, though slowly,down on the reef, where, if he had once got involved in the breakers,the raft must certainly have been dashed to pieces; and he knew fullwell, that in his weak condition, he was utterly incapable of contendingwith such a surf.
Being a man of promptitude, his first act, on making this discovery, wasto lower the sail. This was, fortunately, done in time; had he kept itup a few minutes longer, he must inevitably have passed the only openingin the reef that existed on that side of the island. This opening wasnot more than fifty yards wide. To the right and left of it thebreakers on the reef extended, in lines of seething foam. Already theraft was rolling in the commotion caused by these breakers, as itdrifted towards the opening.
Jarwin was by no means devoid of courage. Many a time, in days gone by,when his good ship was tossing on the stormy sea, or scudding under barepoles, had he stood on the deck with unshaken confidence and a calmheart, but now he was face to face with the seaman's most dreadedenemy--"breakers ahead!"--nay, worse, breakers around him everywhere,save at that one narrow passage, which appeared so small, and soinvolved in the general turmoil, as to afford scarcely an element ofhope. For the first time in his life Jarwin's heart sank within him--atleast so he said in after years while talking of the event--but wesuspect that John was underrating himself. At all events, he showed nosymptoms of fear as he sat there calmly awaiting his fate.
As the raft approached the reef, each successive roller lifted it up anddropped it behind more violently, until at last the top of one of theglittering green walls broke just as it passed under the end of the raftnearest the shore. Jarwin now knew that the next billow would seal hisfate.
There was a wide space between each of those mighty waves. He lookedout to sea, and beheld the swell rising and taking form, and increasingin speed as it came on. Calmly divesting himself of his coat and boots,he sat down beside his dog, and awaited the event. At that moment heobserved, with intense gratitude to the Almighty, that the raft wasdrifting so straight towards the middle of the channel in the reef, thatthere seemed every probability of being carried through it; but the hopethus raised was somewhat chilled by the feeling of weakness whichpervaded his frame.
"Now, Cuffy," said he, patting the terrier gently, "rouse up, my doggie;we must make a brave struggle for life. It's neck or nothing this time.If we touch that reef in passing, Cuff, you an' I shall be food for thesharks to-night, an' it's my opinion that the shark as gits us won'thave much occasion to boast of his supper."
The sailor ceased speaking abruptly. As he looked back at theapproaching roller he felt solemnised and somewhat alarmed, for itappeared so perpendicular and so high from his low position, that itseemed as if it would fall on and overwhelm the raft. There was,indeed, some danger of this. Glancing along its length, Jarwin saw thathere and there the edge was lipping over, while in one place, not faroff, the thunder of its fall had already begun. Another moment, and itappeared to hang over his head; the raft was violently lifted at thestern, caught up, and whirled onward at railway speed, like a cork inthe midst of a boiling cauldron of foam. The roar was deafening. Thetumultuous heaving almost overturned it several times. Jarwin held onfirmly to the mast with his right arm, and grasped the terrier with hisleft hand, for the poor creature had not strength to resist such furiousmotion. It all passed with bewildering speed. It seemed as if, in oneinstant, the raft was hurled through the narrows, and launched into thecalm harbour within. An eddy, at the inner side of the opening, sweptit round, and fixed the end of one of the largest spars of which it wascomposed on the beach.
There were fifty yards or so of sandy coral-reef between the beachoutside, that faced the sea, and the beach inside, which faced the land;yet how great the difference! The one beach, buffeted for ever, day andnight, by the breakers--in calm by the grand successive rollers that, asit were, symbolised the ocean's latent power--in storm by the mad delugeof billows which displayed that power in all its terrible grandeur. Theother beach, a smooth, sloping circlet of fair white sand, laved only bythe ripples of the lagoon, or by its tiny wavelets, when a gale chancedto sweep over it from the land.
Jarwin soon gained this latter beach with Cuffy in his arms, and satdown to rest, for his strength had been so much reduced that the mereexcitement of passing through the reef had almost exhausted him. Cuffy,however, seemed to derive new life from the touch of earth again, for itran about in a staggering drunken sort of way; wagged its tail at theroot,--without, however, being able to influence the point,--and madenumerous futile efforts to bark.
In the midst of its weakly gambols the terrier chanced to discover adead fish on the sands. Instantly it darted forward and began to devourit with great voracity.
"Halo! Cuffy," shouted Jarwin, who observed him; "ho! hold on, yourascal! share and share alike, you know. Here, fetch it here!"
Cuffy had learned the first great principle of a good and useful life--whether of man or beast--namely, prompt obedience. That meek but joviallittle dog, on receiving this order, restrained its appetite, lifted thefish in its longing jaws, and, carrying it to his master, humbly laid itat his feet. He was rewarded with a hearty pat on the head, and a fullhalf of the coveted fish--for Jarwin appeared to regard the"share-and-share-alike" principle as a point of honour between them.
The fish was not good, neither was it large, and of course it was raw,besides being somewhat decayed; nevertheless, both man and dog ate it,bones and all, with quiet satisfaction. Nay, reader, do not shudder!If you were reduced to similar straits, you would certainly enjoy, withequal gusto, a similar meal, supposing that you had the good fortune toget it. Small though it was, it sufficed to appease the appetite of thetwo friends, and to give them a feeling of strength which they had notexperienced for many a day.
Under the influence of this feeling, Jarwin remarked to Cuffy, that "aman could eat a-most anything when hard put to it," and that "it wos nowhigh time to think about goin' ashore."
To which Cuffy replied with a bark, which one might imagine should comefrom a dog in the last stage of whooping-cough, and with a wag of histail--not merely at the root thereof, but a distinct wag--that extendedobviously along its entire length to the extreme point. Jarwin observedthe successful effort, laughed feebly, and said, "Brayvo, Cuffy," withevident delight; for it reminded him of the days when that little shredof a door-mat, in the might of its vigour, was wont to wag its tail soviolently as to convulse its whole body, insomuch that it was difficultto decide whether the tail wagged the body, or the body the tail!
But, although Jarwin made light of his sufferings, his gaunt, wastedframe would have been a sad sight to any pitiful spectator, as withweary aspect and unsteady gait he moved about on the sandy ridge insearch of more food, or gazed with longing eyes on the richly-woodedisland.
For it must be remembered that our castaway had not landed on the islanditself, but on that narrow ring of coral-reef which almost encircled it,and from which it was separated by the lagoon, or enclosed portion ofthe sea, which was, as we have said, about a quarter of a mile wide.
John Jarwin would have thought little of swimming over that narrow beltof smooth water in ordinary circumstances, but now he felt that hisstrength was not equal to such a feat. Moreover, he knew that therewere sharks in these waters, so he dismissed the idea of swimming, andcast about in his mind how he should manage to get across. With Jarwin,action soon followed thought. He resolved to form a small raft out ofportions of the large one. Fortunately his clasp-knife had beenattached, as seamen frequently have it, to his waist-belt, when heforsook his ship. This was the only implement that he possessed, but itwas invaluable. With it he managed to cut the thick ropes that he couldnot have untied, and, in the course of two hours--for he laboured withextreme difficulty--a few broken planks and spars were lashed together.Embarking on this frail vessel with his dog, he pushed off, and using apiece of plank for an oar, sculled himself over the lagoon.
It was touching, even to himself, to observe the slowness of hisprogress. All the strength that remained in him was barely sufficientto move the raft. But the lagoon was as still as a mill-pond. Lookingdown into its clear depths, he could see the rich gardens of coral andsea-weed, among which fish, of varied and brilliant colours, sportedmany fathoms below. The air, too, was perfectly calm.
Very slowly he left the reef astern; the middle of the lagoon wasgained; then, gradually, he neared the island-shore, but oh! it was along, weary pull, although the space was so short, and, to add to thepoor man's misery, the fish which he had eaten caused him intolerablethirst. But he reached the shore at last.
The first thing that greeted his eye as he landed was the sparkle of aclear spring at the foot of some cocoanut-trees. He staggered eagerlytowards it, and fell down beside a hollow in the rock, like a large cupor bowl, which had been scooped out by it.
Who shall presume to describe the feelings of that shipwrecked sailor ashe and his dog drank from the same cup at that sparkling crystalfountain? Delicious odours of lime and citron trees, and well-nighforgotten herbage, filled his nostrils, and the twitter of birdsthrilled his ears, seeming to bid him welcome to the land, as he sankdown on the soft grass, and raised his eyes in thanksgiving to heaven.An irresistible tendency to sleep then seized him.
"If there's a heaven upon earth, I'm in it now," he murmured, as he laiddown his head and closed his eyes.
Cuffy, nestling into his breast, placed his chin on his neck, and heaveda deep, contented sigh. This was the last sound the sailor recognised,as he sank into profound repose.