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crater; but, as it was, it proved all-sufficient, and the sail was
permitted to hang before the hole, until a more secure gate was
suspended in its stead.

The appearances of the thunder-shower were so much increased by this
time, that our mariners hastened back to the ship in order to escape a
ducking. They had hardly got on board before the gust came, a good deal
of water falling, though not in the torrents in which one sometimes sees
it stream down within the tropics. In an hour it was all over, the sun
coming out bright and scorching, after the passage of the gust. One
thing occurred, however, which at first caused both of the seamen a good
deal of uneasiness, and again showed them the necessity there was for
mooring the ship. The wind shifted from the ordinary direction of the
trades, during the squall, to a current of air that was nearly at right
angles to the customary course. This caused the ship to swing, and
brought her so near the sea-wall, that once or twice her side actually
rubbed against it. Mark was aware, by his previous sounding, that this
wall rather impended over its base, being a part of an old crater,
beyond a question, and that there was little danger of the vessel's
hitting the bottom, or taking harm in any other way than by friction
against the upper part; but this friction might become too rude, and
finally endanger the safety of the vessel.

As soon as the weather became fine, however, the trades returned, and
the ship swung round to her old berth. Bob now suggested the expediency
of carrying out their heaviest kedge ashore, of planting it in the
rocks, and of running out to it two or three parts of a hawser, to which
a line of planks might be lashed, and thus give them the means of
entering and quitting the ship, without having recourse to the dingui.
Mark approved of this plan, and, it requiring a raft to carry ashore the
kedge, the dingui being so light they were afraid to trust it, it was
decided to commence that work in the morning. For the rest of the
present day nothing further was done, beyond light and necessary jobs,
and continuing the examination of the island. Mark was curious to look
at the effect of the shower, both in reference to his plantations, and
to the quantity of fresh water that might have lodged on the reef. It
was determined, therefore, to pass an hour or two ashore before the
night shut in again.

Previously to quitting the ship, Bob spoke of the poultry. There were
but six hens, a cock, and five ducks, left. They were all as low in
flesh and spirits, as it was usual to find birds that have been at sea
fifty days, and the honest tar proposed turning them all adrift on the
reef, to make their own living in the best way they could. Now and then
a little food might be put in their way, but let them have a chance for
their lives. Mark assented at once, and the coops were opened. Each fowl
was carried to the taffrail, and tossed into the air, when it flew down
upon the reef, a distance of a couple of hundred feet, almost as a
matter of course. Glad enough were the poor things to be thus liberated.
To Mark's surprise, no sooner did they reach the reef, than to work they
went, and commenced picking up something with the greatest avidity, as
if let loose in the best supplied poultry-yard. Confident there was
nothing for even a hen to glean on the rocks when he left there, the
young man could not account for this, until turning his eyes inboard, he
saw the ducks doing the same thing on deck. Examining the food of these
last-mentioned animals, he found there were a great number of minute
mucilaginous particles on the deck, which no doubt had descended with
the late rain, and which all the birds, as well as the hogs, seemed
eager to devour. Here, then, was a supply, though a short-lived one, of
a manna suited to those creatures, which might render them happy for a
few hours, at least. Bob caught the ducks, and tossed them overboard,
when they floundered about and enjoyed themselves in a way that
communicated a certain pleasure even to the desolate and shipwrecked men
who had set them at liberty. Nothing with life now remained in the ship
but the goat, and Mark thought it best not to turn her ashore until they
had greater facilities for getting the necessary food to her than the
dingui afforded. As she was not likely to breed, there was no great use
in keeping this animal at all, to say nothing of the means of feeding
her, for any length of time; but Mark was unwilling to take her life,
since Providence had brought them all to that place in company. Then he
thought she might be a pretty object leaping about the cliffs of the
crater, giving the island a more lively and inhabited appearance, though
he foresaw she might prove very destructive to his plantations, did his
vegetables grow. As there was time enough to decide on her final fate,
it was finally settled she should be put ashore, and have a comfortable
fortnight, even though condemned to die at the end of that brief period.

On landing, every hole in the face of the cliff was found filled with
fresh water. Betts was of opinion that the water-casks might all be
filled with the water which was thus collected, the fluid having
seemingly all flowed into these receptacles, while little had gone into
the sea. This was encouraging for the future, at any rate; the want of
water, previously to this shower, appearing to Mark to be a more
probable occurrence than the want of food. The sea might furnish the
last, on an emergency, while it could do nothing with the first. But the
manner in which the ducks were enjoying themselves, in these fresh
pools, can scarcely be imagined! As Mark stood looking at them, a doubt
first suggested itself to his mind concerning the propriety of men's
doing anything that ran counter to their instincts, with any of the
creatures of God. Pet-birds in cages, birds that were created to fly,
had always been disagreeable to him; nor did he conceive it to be any
answer to say that they were born in cages, and had never known liberty.
They were created with an instinct for flight, and intense must be their
longings to indulge in the power which nature had bestowed on them. In
the cage in which he now found himself, though he could run, walk, leap,
swim, or do aught that nature designed him to do, in the way of mere
animal exploits, young Mark felt how bitter were the privations he was
condemned to suffer.

The rain had certainly done no harm, as yet, to the planting. All the
hills were entire, as Mark and Bob had left them, though well saturated
with water. In a few, there might be even too much of the element,
perhaps, but Mark observed that a tropical sun would soon remove that
objection. His great apprehension was that he had commenced his
gardening too late, and that the dry weather might set in too soon for
the good of his vegetables; if any of them, indeed, ever came up at all.
Here was one good soaking secured, at all events; and, knowing the
power of a tropical sun, Mark was of opinion that the fate of the great
experiment he had tried would soon be known. Could he succeed in
producing vegetation among the _débris_ of the crater, he and Bob might
find the means of subsistence during their natural lives; but, should
that resource fail them, all their hopes would depend on being able to
effect their escape in a craft of their own construction. In no case,
however, but that of the direst necessity, did Mark contemplate the
abandonment of his plan for getting back to the inhabited world, his
country, and his bride!

That night our mariners had a sounder sleep than they had yet been blest
with since the loss of their shipmates, and the accident to the vessel
itself. The two following days they passed in securing the ship. Bob
actually made a very respectable catamaran, or raft, out of the spare
spars, sawing the topmasts and lower yards in two, for that purpose, and
fastening them together with ingenuity and strength, by means of
lashings. But Mark hit upon an expedient for getting the two kedges
ashore, that prevented the necessity of having recourse to the raft on
that occasion. These kedges lay on the poop, where they were habitually
kept, and two men had no great difficulty in getting them over the
stern, suspended by stoppers. Now Mark had ascertained that the rock of
the Reef rose like a wall, being volcanic, like all the rest of the
formation, and that the ship could float almost anywhere alongside of
it. Aided by the rake of the stern of an old-fashioned Philadelphia-built
ship, nothing was easier than to veer upon the cable, let the vessel drop
in to the island, until the kedges actually hung over the rocks, and then
lower the last down. All this was done, and the raft was reserved for
other purposes. Notwithstanding the facility with which the kedges were
got ashore, it took Mark and Bob quite half a day to plant them in the
rock precisely where they were wanted. When this was accomplished,
however, it was so effectually done as to render the hold even greater
than that of the sheet-anchor. The stocks were not used at all, but the
kedges were laid flat on the rock, quite near to each other, and in such
a manner that the flukes were buried in crevices of the lava, giving a
most secure hold, while the shanks came out through natural grooves,
leading straight towards the ship. Six parts of a hawser were bent to
the kedges, three to each, and these parts were held at equal distances
by pieces of spars ingeniously placed between them, the whole being kept
in its place by regular stretchers that were lashed along the hawsers at
distances of ten feet, giving all the parts of the ropes the same level.
Before these stretchers were secured, the ship was hove ahead by her
cable, and the several parts of the hawser brought to an equal strain.
This left the vessel about a hundred feet from the island, a convenient,
and if the anchor held, a _safe_ position; though Mark felt little
fear of losing the ship against rocks that were so perpendicular and
smooth. On the stretchers planks were next laid and lashed, thus making
a clear passage between the vessel and the shore, that might be used at
all times, without recourse to the dingui; besides mooring the ship head
and stern, thereby keeping her always in the same place, and in the same

The business of securing the ship occupied nearly two days, and was not
got through with until about the middle of the afternoon of the second
day. It was Saturday, and Mark had determined to make a good beginning,
and keep all their Sabbaths, in future, as holy times, set apart for the
special service of the Creator. He had been born and educated an
Episcopalian, but Bob claimed to be a Quaker, and what was more he was a
little stiff in some of his notions on the opinion of his sect. The part
of New Jersey in which Betts was born, had many persons of this
religious persuasion, and he was not only born, but, in one sense,
educated in their midst; though the early age at which he went to sea
had very much unsettled his practice, much the most material part of the
tenets of these good persons. When the two knocked off work, Saturday
afternoon, therefore, it was with an understanding that the next day was
to be one of rest in the sense of Christians, and, from that time
henceforth, that the Sabbath was to be kept as a holy day. Mark had ever
been inclined to soberness of thought on such subjects. His early
engagement to Bridget had kept him from falling into the ways of most
mariners, and, time and again, had a future state of being been the
subject of discourse between him and his betrothed. As the seasons of
adversity are those in which men are the most apt to bethink them of
their duties to God, it is not at all surprising that one of this
disposition, thus situated, felt renewed demands on his gratitude and

While Mark, in this frame of mind, went rambling around his narrow
domains, Bob got the dingui, and proceeded with his fishing-tackle
towards some of the naked rocks, that lifted their caps above the
surface of the sea, in a north-westerly direction from the crater. Of
these naked rocks there were nearly twenty, all within a mile of the
crater, and the largest of them not containing more than six or eight
acres of dry surface. Some were less than a hundred feet in diameter.
The great extent and irregular formation of the reefs all around the
island, kept the water smooth, for some distance, on all sides of it;
and it was only when the rollers were sent in by heavy gales, that the
dingui could not move about, in this its proper sphere, in safety.

Betts was very fond of fishing, and could pass whole days, at a time, in
that quiet amusement, provided he had a sufficient supply of tobacco.
Indeed, one of the greatest consolations this man possessed, under the
present misfortune, was the ample store of this weed which was to be
found in the ship. Every man on board the Rancocus, Mark alone excepted,
made use of tobacco; and, for so long a voyage, the provision laid in
had been very abundant. On this occasion, Bob enjoyed his two favourite
occupations to satiety, masticating the weed while he fished.

With Mark it was very different. He was fond of his fowling-piece, but
of little use was that weapon in his present situation. Of all the birds
that frequented the adjacent rocks, not one was of a sort that would be
eaten, unless in cases of famine. As he walked over the island, that
afternoon, his companion was the goat, which had been driven ashore on
the new gangway, and was enjoying its liberty almost as much as the
ducks. As the animal frisked about him, accompanying him everywhere in
his walks. Mark was reminded of the goats of Crusoe, and his mind
naturally adverted to the different accounts of shipwrecks of which he
had read, and to a comparison between his own condition and those of
other mariners who had been obliged to make their homes, for a time, on
otherwise uninhabited islands.

In this comparison, Mark saw that many things made greatly against him,
on the one hand; while, on the other, there were many others for which
he had every reason to be profoundly grateful. In the first place, this
island was, as yet, totally without vegetation of every kind. It had
neither plant, shrub, nor tree. In this he suffered a great privation,
and it even remained to be proved by actual experiment, whether he was
master of what might be considered the elements of soil. It occurred to
him that something like vegetation must have shown itself, in or about
the crater, did its _débris_ contain the fertilizing principle, Mark not
being sufficiently versed in the new science of chemical agriculture, to
understand that the admixtures of certain elements might bring to life
forces that then were dormant. Then the Reef had no water. This was a
very, very great privation, the most serious of all, and might prove to
be a terrible calamity. It is true that, just at that moment, there was
a shower every day, and sometimes two or three of them; but it was then
spring, and there could be little reason to doubt that droughts would
come in the hot and dry season. As a last objection, the Reef had no
great extent, and no variety, the eye taking it all in at a glance,
while the crater was its sole relief against the dullest monotony. Nor
was there a bit of wood, or fuel of any sort to cook with, after the
supply now in the ship should be exhausted. Such were the leading
disadvantages of the situation in which our mariners were placed, as
compared with those into which most other shipwrecked seamen had been

The advantages, on the other hand, Mark, in humble gratitude to God,
admitted to be very great. In the first place, the ship and all she
contained was preserved, giving them a dwelling, clothes, food and
water, as well as fuel, for a long time to come; possibly, aided by what
might be gleaned on even that naked reef, sufficient to meet all their
wants for the duration of a human life. The cargo of the Rancocus was
of no great extent, and of little value in a civilized country; but Mark
knew that it included many articles that would be of vast service where
he was. The beads and coarse trinkets with which it had been intended to
trade with the savages, were of no use whatever, it is true; but the
ship's owners were pains-taking and thoughtful Quakers, as has been
already intimated, who blended with great shrewdness in the management
of their worldly affairs, a certain regard to benevolence in general,
and a desire to benefit their species. On this principle, they had
caused a portion of their cargo to be made up, sending, in addition to
all the ruder and commoner tools, that could be used by a people without
domestic animals, a small supply of rugs, coarse clothes, coarse
earthen-ware, and a hundred similar things, that would be very
serviceable to any who knew how to use them. Most of the seeds came from
these thoughtful merchants.

If fresh water were absolutely wanting on the reef, it rained a good
deal; in the rainy season it must rain for a few weeks almost
incessantly, and the numerous cavities in the ancient lava, formed
natural cisterns of great capacity. By taking the precaution of filling
up the water-casks of the ship, periodically, there was little danger of
suffering for the want of this great requisite. It is true, the sweet,
cool, grateful draught, that was to be got from the gushing spring, must
be forgotten; but rain-water collected in clean rock, and preserved in
well-sweetened casks, was very tolerable drinking for seamen. Captain
Crutchely, moreover, had a filterer for the cabin, and through it all
the water used there was habitually passed.

In striking the balance between the advantages and disadvantages of his
own situation, as compared with that of other shipwrecked mariners, Mark
confessed that he had quite as much reason to be grateful as to repine.
The last he was resolved not to do, if possible; and he pursued his walk
in a more calm and resigned mood than he had been in since the ship
entered among the shoals.

Mark, naturally enough, cast his eyes around him, and asked himself the
question what was to be done with the domestic animals they had now all
landed. The hogs might, or might not be of the greatest importance to
them as their residence on the island was or was not protracted, and as
they found the means of feeding them. There was still food enough in the
ship to keep these creatures for some months, and food that had been
especially laid in for that purpose; but that food would serve equally
well for the fowls, and our young man was of opinion, that eggs would be
of more importance to himself and Betts, than hog's flesh. Then there
was the goat; she would soon cease to be of any use at all, and green
food was not to be had for her. A little hay, however, remained; and
Mark was fully determined that Kitty, as the playful little thing was
called, should live at least as long as that lasted. She was fortunate
in being content with a nourishment that no other animal wanted.

Mark could see absolutely nothing on the rocks for a bird to live on,
yet were the fowls constantly picking up something. They probably found
insects that escaped his sight; while it was certain that the ducks were
revelling in the pools of fresh water, of which there might, at that
moment, have been a hundred on the reef. As all these creatures were, as
yet, regularly fed from the supplies in the ship, each seemed to be
filled with the joy of existence; and Mark, as he walked among them,
felt how profound ought to be his own gratitude, since he was still in a
state of being which admitted of a consciousness of happiness so much
beyond anything that was known to the inferior animals of creation. He
had his mind, with all its stores gathered from study and observation,
his love for God, and his hopes of a blessed future, ever at command.
Even his love for Bridget had its sweets, as well as its sorrows. It was
grateful to think of her tenderness to himself, her beauty, her
constancy, of which he would not for a moment doubt, and of all the
innocent and delightful converse they had had during a courtship that
occupied so much of their brief lives.

Just as the sun was setting, Bob returned from his fishing excursion. To
Mark's surprise, he saw that the dingui floated almost with her
gunwale-to, and he hastened down to meet his friend, who came ashore in
a little bay, quite near the gate-way, and in which the rock did not
rise as much like a wall as it did on most of the exterior of the reef.
Bob had caught about a dozen fish, some of which were of considerable
size, though all were of either species or varieties that were unknown
to them both. Selecting two of the most promising-looking, for their own
use, he threw the others on the rocks, where the pigs and poultry might
give them a trial. Nor was it long before these creatures were hard at
work on them, disregarding the scales and fins. At first the hens were a
little delicate, probably from having found animal food enough for their
present wants in the insects; but, long before the game was demolished,
they had come in for their full share. This experiment satisfied the
mariners that there would be no difficulty in furnishing plenty of food
for all their stock, and for any length of time, Kitty excepted. It is
true, the pork and the poultry would be somewhat fishy; but that would
be a novelty, and should it prove disagreeable on tasting it, a little
clean feeding, at the proper moment, would correct the flavour.

But the principal cargo of the dingui was not the dozen fish mentioned.
Bob had nearly filled the boat with a sort of vegetable loam, that he
had found lodged in the cavity of one of the largest rocks, and which,
from the signs around the place, he supposed to have been formed by
deposits of sea-weed. By an accident of nature, this cavity in the rock
received a current, which carried large quantities of floating weed
_into_ it, while every storm probably had added to its stores since the
mass had risen above the common level of the sea, by throwing fresh
materials on to the pile, by means of the waves, nothing quitting it.
Bob reported that there were no signs of vegetation around the rock,
which circumstance, however, was easily enough accounted for by the salt
water that was incessantly moistening the surface, and which, while it
took with it the principle of future, was certain to destroy all
present, vegetable life; or, all but that which belongs exclusively to
aquatic plants.

"How much of this muck do you suppose is to be found on your rock, Bob?"
asked Mark, after he had examined the dingui's cargo, by sight, taste,
and smell. "If is surprisingly like a rich earth, if it be not actually

"Lord bless you, Mr. Mark, there is enough on't to fill the old 'Cocus,
ag'in and ag'in. How deep it is, I don't pretend to know; but it's a
good hundred paces across it, and the spot is as round as that there
chimbly, that you call a cr'ature."

"If that be the case, we will try our hands at it next week, and see
what can be done with an importation. I do not give up the blessed hope
of the boat, Bob - that you will always bear in mind - but it is best to
keep an eye on the means of living, should it please God to prevent our
getting to sea again."

"To sea, Mr. Mark, neither you nor I, nor any mortal man will ever get,
in the old 'Cocus ag'in, as I know by the looks of things outside of us.
'Twill never do to plant in my patch, however, for the salt water must
wash it whenever it blows; though a very little work, too, might keep it
out, when I come to think on it. Sparrow-grass would grow there, as it
is, desperately well; and Friend Abraham White had both seeds and roots
put up for the use of the savages, if a body only know'd whereabouts to
look for them, among the lot of rubbish of that sort, that he sent

"All the seeds and roots are in two or three boxes, in the steerage,"
answered Mark. "I'll just step up to the crater and bring a shovel, to
throw this loam out of the boat with, while you can clean the fish and
cook the supper. A little fresh food, after so much salt, will be both
pleasant and good for us."

Bob assented, and each went his way. Mark threw the loam into a
wheelbarrow, of which Friend Abraham had put no less than three in the
ship, as presents to the savages, and he wheeled it, at two or three
loads, into the crater, where he threw it down in a pile, intending to
make a compost heap of all the materials of the sort he could lay his

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Crater → online text (page 8 of 42)