The Coral Island/Chapter 14
It was quite a relief to us to breathe the pure air and to enjoy the glad sunshine after our long ramble in the Diamond Cave, as we named it; for although we did not stay more than half-an-hour away, it seemed to us much longer. While we were dressing, and during our walk home, we did our best to satisfy the curiosity of poor Peterkin, who seemed to regret, with lively sincerity, his inability to dive.
There was no help for it, however, so we condoled with him as we best could. Had there been any great rise or fall in the tide of these seas, we might perhaps have found it possible to take him down with us at low water; but as the tide never rose or fell more than eighteen inches or two feet, this was impossible.
This peculiarity of the tide—its slight rise and fall—had not attracted our observation till some time after our residence on the island. Neither had we observed another curious circumstance until we had been some time there. This was the fact that the tide rose and fell with constant regularity, instead of being affected by the changes of the moon as in our own country, and as it is in most other parts of the world—at least, in all those parts with which I am acquainted. Every day and every night, at twelve o’clock precisely, the tide is at the full; and at six o’clock, every morning and evening, it is ebb. I can speak with much confidence on this singular circumstance, as we took particular note of it, and never found it to alter. Of course I must admit we had to guess the hour of twelve midnight, and I think we could do this pretty correctly; but in regard to twelve noon we are quite positive, because we easily found the highest point that the sun reached in the sky by placing ourselves at a certain spot whence we observed the sharp summit of a cliff resting against the sky, just where the sun passed.
Jack and I were surprised that we had not noticed this the first few days of our residence here, and could only account for it by our being so much taken up with the more obvious wonders of our novel situation. I have since learned, however, that this want of observation is a sad and very common infirmity of human nature, there being hundreds of persons before whose eyes the most wonderful things are passing every day who nevertheless, are totally ignorant of them. I therefore have to record my sympathy with such persons, and to recommend to them a course of conduct which I have now for a long time myself adopted—namely, the habit of forcing my attention upon all things that go on around me, and of taking some degree of interest in them whether I feel it naturally or not. I suggest this the more earnestly, though humbly, because I have very frequently come to know that my indifference to a thing has generally been caused by my ignorance in regard to it.
We had much serious conversation on this subject of the tides; and Jack told us, in his own quiet, philosophical way, that these tides did great good to the world in many ways, particularly in the way of cleansing the shores of the land, and carrying off the filth that was constantly poured into the sea therefrom—which, Peterkin suggested, was remarkably tidy of it to do. Poor Peterkin could never let slip an opportunity to joke, however inopportune it might be, which at first we found rather a disagreeable propensity, as it often interrupted the flow of very agreeable conversation—and, indeed, I cannot too strongly record my disapprobation of this tendency in general; but we became so used to it at last that we found it no interruption whatever. Indeed, strange to say, we came to feel that it was a necessary part of our enjoyment (such is the force of habit), and found the sudden outbursts of mirth, resulting from his humorous disposition, quite natural and refreshing to us in the midst of our more serious conversations. But I must not misrepresent Peterkin. We often found, to our surprise, that he knew many things which we did not; and I also observed that those things which he learned from experience were never forgotten. From all these things I came at length to understand that things very opposite and dissimilar in themselves, when united, do make an agreeable whole; as, for example, we three on this our island, although most unlike in many things, when united, made a trio so harmonious that I question if there ever met before such an agreeable triumvirate. There was, indeed, no note of discord whatever in the symphony we played together on that sweet Coral Island; and I am now persuaded that this was owing to our having been all tuned to the same key—namely, that of love! Yes, we loved one another with much fervency while we lived on that island; and, for the matter of that, we love each other still.
And while I am on this subject, or rather the subject that just preceded it—namely, the tides—I may here remark on another curious natural phenomenon. We found that there was little or no twilight in this island. We had a distinct remembrance of the charming long twilight at home, which some people think the most delightful part of the day—though, for my part, I have always preferred sunrise; and when we first landed, we used to sit down on some rocky point or eminence, at the close of our day’s work, to enjoy the evening breeze, but no sooner had the sun sunk below the horizon than all became suddenly dark. This rendered it necessary that we should watch the sun when we happened to be out hunting; for to be suddenly left in the dark while in the woods was very perplexing, as, although the stars shone with great beauty and brilliancy, they could not pierce through the thick umbrageous boughs that interlaced above our heads.
But to return. After having told all we could to Peterkin about the Diamond Cave under Spouting Cliff, as we named the locality, we were wending our way rapidly homewards when a grunt and a squeal were borne down by the land breeze to our ears.
“That’s the ticket!” was Peterkin’s remarkable exclamation as he started convulsively and levelled his spear.
“Hist!” cried Jack; “these are your friends, Peterkin. They must have come over expressly to pay you a friendly visit, for it is the first time we have seen them on this side of the island.”
“Come along!” cried Peterkin, hurrying towards the wood; while Jack and I followed, smiling at his impatience.
Another grunt and half-a-dozen squeals, much louder than before, came down the valley. At this time we were just opposite the small vale which lay between the Valley of the Wreck and Spouting Cliff.
“I say, Peterkin!” cried Jack in a hoarse whisper.
“Well, what is’t?”
“Stay a bit, man! These grunters are just up there on the hillside. If you go and stand with Ralph in the lee of yon cliff I’ll cut round behind and drive them through the gorge, so that you’ll have a better chance of picking out a good one. Now, mind you pitch into a fat young pig, Peterkin!” added Jack as he sprang into the bushes.
“Won’t I, just!” said Peterkin, licking his lips, as we took our station beside the cliff. “I feel quite a tender affection for young pigs in my heart. Perhaps it would be more correct to say in my tum—”
“There they come!” cried I as a terrific yell from Jack sent the whole herd screaming down the hill. Now Peterkin, being unable to hold back, crept a short way up a very steep grassy mound in order to get a better view of the hogs before they came up; and just as he raised his head above its summit, two little pigs, which had outrun their companions, rushed over the top with the utmost precipitation. One of these brushed close past Peterkin’s ear; the other, unable to arrest its headlong flight, went, as Peterkin himself afterwards expressed it, ‘bash’ into his arms with a sudden squeal, which was caused more by the force of the blow than the will of the animal, and both of them rolled violently down to the foot of the mound. No sooner was this reached than the little pig recovered its feet, tossed up its tail, and fled shrieking from the spot. But I slung a large stone after it, which, being fortunately well aimed, hit it behind the ear and felled it to the earth.
“Capital, Ralph! that’s your sort!” cried Peterkin, who, to my surprise and great relief, had risen to his feet apparently unhurt, though much dishevelled. He rushed frantically towards the gorge, which the yells of the hogs told us they were now approaching. I had made up my mind that I would abstain from killing another, as, if Peterkin should be successful, two were more than sufficient for our wants at the present time. Suddenly they all burst forth—two or three little round ones in advance, and an enormous old sow with a drove of hogs at her heels.
“Now, Peterkin,” said I, “there’s a nice little fat one; just spear it.”
But Peterkin did not move; he allowed it to pass unharmed. I looked at him in surprise, and saw that his lips were compressed and his eyebrows knitted, as if he were about to fight with some awful enemy.
“What is it?” I inquired with some trepidation.
Suddenly he levelled his spear, darted forward, and with a yell that nearly froze the blood in my veins, stabbed the old sow to the heart. Nay, so vigorously was it done that the spear went in at one side and came out at the other!
“Oh Peterkin!” said I, going up to him, “what have you done?”
“Done? I’ve killed their great-great-grandmother, that’s all,” said he, looking with a somewhat awestruck expression at the transfixed animal.
“Hallo! what’s this?” said Jack as he came up. “Why, Peterkin, you must be fond of a tough chop. If you mean to eat this old hog, she’ll try your jaws, I warrant. What possessed you to stick her, Peterkin?”
“Why, the fact is, I want a pair of shoes.”
“What have your shoes to do with the old hog?” said I, smiling.
“My present shoes have certainly nothing to do with her,” replied Peterkin; “nevertheless, she will have a good deal to do with my future shoes. The fact is, when I saw you floor that pig so neatly, Ralph, it struck me that there was little use in killing another. Then I remembered all at once that I had long wanted some leather or tough substance to make shoes of, and this old grandmother seemed so tough that I just made up my mind to stick her—and you see I’ve done it!”
“That you certainly have, Peterkin,” said Jack as he was examining the transfixed animal.
We now considered how we were to carry our game home, for, although the distance was short, the hog was very heavy. At length we hit on the plan of tying its four feet together, and passing the spear-handle between them. Jack took one end on his shoulder, I took the other on mine, and Peterkin carried the small pig.
Thus we returned in triumph to our bower, laden, as Peterkin remarked, with the glorious spoils of a noble hunt. As he afterwards spoke in similarly glowing terms in reference to the supper that followed, there is every reason to believe that we retired that night to our leafy beds in a high state of satisfaction.