James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 29) online

. (page 13 of 42)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 29) → online text (page 13 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


cool linen, that had been prepared for Bob, but which that
worthy fellow had pertinaciously refused to use, out of
respect to his officer. On these sheets Mark now sank,
almost exhausted. He had made a happy exchange, how
ever, the freshness and sweetness of the new bed, of itself,
acting as delicious restoratives.

After resting a few minutes, the solitary invalid formed
a new plan of proceeding. He knew the importance of
not over-exerting himself, but he also knew the importance
of cleanliness and of a renovation of his strength. By this
time the biscuit had got to be softened in the wine and
water, and he took a piece, and after masticating it well,
swallowed it. This was positively the first food the sick
and desolate young man had received in a week. Fully
aware of this, he abstained from taking a second mouthful,
though sorely pressed to it by hunger. So strong was the
temptation, and so sweet did that morsel taste, that Mark



136 THE CRATER;

felt he might not refrain unless he had something to occupy
his mind for a few minutes. Taking a small swallow of
the wine and water, he again got on his feet, and staggered
to the drawer in which poor Captain Crutchely had kept
his linen. Here he got a shirt, and tottered on as far as
the quarter-deck. Beneath the awning Mark had kept the
section of a hogshead, as a bathing-tub, and for the pur
pose of catching the rain-water that ran from the awning,
Kitty often visiting the ship and drinking from this re
servoir.

The invalid found the tub full of fresh and sweet water,
and throwing aside the shirt in which he had lain so long,
he rather fell than seated himself in the water. After re
maining a sufficient time to recover his breath, Mark
washed his head, and long matted beard, and all parts of
his frame, as well as his strength would allow. He must
have remained in the water several minutes, when he ma
naged to tear himself from it, as fearful of excess from this
indulgence as from eating. The invalid now felt like a
new man ! It is scarcely possible to express the change
that came over his feelings, when he found himself purified
from the effects of so long a confinement in a feverish bed,
without change, or nursing of any sort. After drying him
self as well as he could with a towel, though the breeze
and the climate did that office for him pretty effectually,
Mark put on the clean, fresh shirt, and tottered back to
his own berth, where he fell on the mattress, nearly ex
hausted. It was half-an-hour before he moved again,
though all that time experiencing the benefits of the nou
rishment taken, and the purification undergone. The bath,
moreover, had acted as a tonic, giving a stimulus to the
whole system. At the end of the half hour, the young
man took another mouthful of the biscuit, half emptied the
tumbler, fell back on his pillow, and was soon in a sweet
sleep.

It was near sunset when Mark lost his consciousness on
this occasion, nor did he recover it until the light of day
was once more cheering the cabin. He had slept pro
foundly twelve hours, and this so much the more readily
from the circumstance that he had previously refreshed
himself with a bath and clean linen. The first conscious*



OB, VULCAN'S PEAK. 137

ness of his situation was accompanied with the bleat of
poor Kitty. That gentle animal, intended by nature to
mix with herds, had visited the cabin daily, and had been
at the sick man's side, when his fever was at its height ;
and had now come again, as if to inquire after his night's
rest. Mark held out his hand, and spoke to his companion,
fer such she was, and thought she was rejoiced to hear his
voice again, and to be allowed to lick his hand. There
was great consolation in this mute intercourse, poor Mark
feeling the want of sympathy so much as to find a deep
pleasure in this proof of affection even in a brute.

Mark now arose, and found himself sensibly improved
by his night's rest, the washing, and the nourishment re
ceived, little as the last had been. His first step was to
empty the tumbler, bread and all. Then he took another
bath, the last doing quite as much good, he fancied, as hia
breakfast. All that day, the young man managed his case
with the same self-denial and prudence, consuming a ship's
biscuit in the course of the next twenty-four hours, and
taking two or three glasses of the wine, mixed with water
and sweetened with sugar. In the afternoon he endea
voured to shave, but the first effort convinced him he was
getting well too fast.

It was thrice twenty-four hours after his first bath, be
fore Mark Woolston had sufficient strength to reach the
galley and light a fire. In this he then succeeded, and he
treated himself to a cup of good warm tea. He concocted
some dishes of arrow-root and cocoa, too, in the course of
that and the next day, continuing his baths, and changing
his linen repeatedly. On the fifth day, he got off his beard,
which was a vast relief to him, and by the end of the week
he actually crawled up on the poop, where he could get a
sight of his domains.

The Summit was fast getting to be really green in con
siderable patches, for the whole rock was now covered
with grass. Kitty was feeding quietly enough on the hill
side, the gentle creature having learned to pass the curtain
at the gate, and go up and down the ascents at pleasure.
Mark scarce dared to look for his hogs, but there they
were rooting and grunting about the Reef, actually fat and
contented. He knew that this foreboded evil to his garden,
12



138 THE CRATER;

for the creatures must have died for want of food during
his illness, had not some such relief been found. As yet,
his strength would not allow him to go ashore, and he was
obliged to content himself with this distant view of his
estate. The poultry appeared to be well, and the invalid
fancied he saw chickens running at the side of one of the
hens.

It was a week later before Mark ventured to go as far
as the crater. On entering it, he found that his conjec
tures concerning the garden were true. Two-thirds of it
had been dug over by the snouts of his pigs, quite as ef
fectually as he could have done it, in his vigour, with the
spade. Tops and roots had been demolished alike, and
about as much wasted as had been consumed. Kitty was
found, jlagrante delictu, nibbling at the beans, which, by
this time, were dead ripe. The -peas, and beans, and In
dian corn had made good picking for the poultry ; and
everything possessing life had actually been living in abun
dance, while the sick man had lain unconscious of even
his own existence, in a state as near death as life.

Mark found his awning standing, and was glad to rest
an hour or two in his hammock, after looking at the gar
den. While there the hogs entered the crater, and made
a meal before his eyes. To his surprise, the sow was fol
lowed by ten little creatures, that were already getting to
be of the proper size for eating. A ravenous appetite was
now Mark's greatest torment, and the coarse food of the
ship was rather too heavy for him. He had exhausted his
wit in contriving dishes of flour, and pined for something
more grateful than salted beef, or pork. Although he
somewhat distrusted his strength, yet longing induced him
to make an experiment. A fowling-piece, loaded with
ball, was under the awning ; and freshening the priming,
the young man watched his opportunity when one of the
grunters was in a good position, and shot it in the head.
Then cutting its throat with a knife, he allowed it to bleed,
when he cleaned, and skinned it. This last operation was
not very artistical, but it was necessary in the situation of
our invalid. With the carcase of this pig. which was quite
as much as he could even then carry back to the ship,
though the animal was not yet six weeks old, Mark made



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 139

certain savoury and nourishing dishes, that contributed
essentially to the restoration of his strength. In the course
of the ensuing month three more of the pigs shared the
same fate, as did half-a-dozen of the brood of chickens
already mentioned, though the last were not yet half-grown.
But Mark felt, now, as if he could eat the crater, though
as yet he had not been able to clamber to the Summit.



CHAPTER X.

" Yea ! long as nature's humblest child
Hath kept her temple undefiled

By sinful sacrifice,

Earth's fairest scenes are all his own,
He is a monarch, and his throne
Is built amid the skies."

WIISOK.

OUR youthful hermit was quite two months in regaining
his strength, though, by the end of one he was able to look
about him, and turn his hand to many little necessary jobs.
The first thing he undertook was to set up a gate that
would keep the animals on the outside of the crater. The
pigs had not only consumed much the largest portion of
his garden truck, but they had taken a fancy to break up
the crust of that part of the crater where the grass was
showing itself, and to this inroad upon his meadows, Mark
had no disposition to submit. He had now ascertained
that the surface of the plain, though of a rocky appearance,
was so far shelly and porous that the seeds had taken very
generally ; and as soon as their roots worked their way
into the minute crevices, he felt certain they would of
themselves convert the whole surface into a soil sufficiently
rich to nourish the plants he wished to produce tkere.
Under such circumstances he did not desire the assistance
of the hogs. As yet, however, the animals had done good,
rather than harm to the garden, by stirring the soil up,
and mixing the sea-weed and decayed fish with it; but



140 THE CRATER;

among the grass they threatened to be more destructive
than useful. In most places the crust of the plain was just
thick enough to bear the weight of a man, and Mark, no
geologist, by the way, came to the conclusion that it ex
isted at all more through the agency of the salt deposited
in ancient floods, than from any other cause. According
to the great general law of the earth, soil should have been
formed from rock, and not rock from soil ; though there
certainly are cases in which the earths indurate, as well
as become disintegrated. As we are not professing to
give a scientific account of these matters, we shall simply
state the facts, leaving better scholars than ourselves to
account for their existence.

Mark made his gate out of the fife-rail, at the foot of the
mainmast, sawing off the stanchions for that purpose.
With a little alteration it answered perfectly, being made
to swing from a post that was wedged into the arch, by
cutting it to the proper length. As this was the first at
tack upon the Rancocus that had yet been made, by axe
or saw, it made the young man melancholy; and it was
only with great reluctance that he could prevail on himself
to begin what appeared like the commencement of breaking
up the good craft. It was done, however, and the gate
was hung; thereby saving the rest of the crop. It was
high time ; the hogs and poultry, to say nothing of Kitty,
having already got their full share. The inroads of the
first, however, were of use in more ways than one, since
they taught our young cultivator a process by which he
could get his garden turned up at a cheap rate. They
also suggested to him an idea that he subsequently turned
to good account. Having dug his roots so early, it oc
curred to Mark that, in so low a climate, and with such a
store of manure, he might raise two crops in a year, those
which came in the cooler months varying a little in their
properties from those which came in the warmer. On this
hint he endeavoured to improve, commencing anew beds
thatj without it, would probably have lain fallow some
months longer.

In this way did our young man employ himself until he
found his strength perfectly restored. But the severe ill
ness he had gone through, with the sad views it had given



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 141

him of some future day, when he might be compelled to
give up life itself, without a friendly hand to smooth his
pillow, or to close his eyes, led him to think far more se
riously than he had done before, on the subject of the true
character of our probationary condition here on earth, and
on the unknown and awful future to which it leads us.
Mark had been carefully educated on the subject of reli
gion, and was well enough disposed to enter into the in
quiry in a suitable spirit of humility ; but, the grave cir
cumstances in which he was now placed, contributed
largely to the clearness of his views of the necessity of
preparing for the final change. Cut off, as he was, from
all communion with his kind; cast on what was, when he
firrt knew it, literally a barren rock in the midst of the
vast Pacific Ocean, Mark found himself, by a very natural
operation of causes, in much closer communion with his
Creator, than he might have been in the haunts of the
world. On the Reef, there was little to divert his thoughts
from their true course ; and the very ills that pressed upon
him, became so many guides to his gratitude by showing,
through the contrasts, the many blessings which had been
left him by the mercy of the hand that had struck him.
The nights in that climate and season were much the
pleasantest portions of the four-and-twenty hours. There
were no exhalations from decayed vegetable substances or
stagnant pools, to create miasma, but the air was as pure
and little to be feared under a placid moon as under a
noon-day sun. The first hours of night, therefore, were
those in which our solitary man chose to take most of his
exercise, previously to his complete restoration to strength ;
and then it was that he naturally fell into an obvious and
healthful communion with the stars.

So far as the human mind has as yet been able to pene
trate the mysteries of our condition here on earth, with
the double connection between the past and the future, all
its just inferences tend to the belief in an existence of a
vast and beneficent design. We have somewhere heard, or
read, that the gipsies believe that men are the fallen angels,
oiling their way backward on the fatal path along which
hey formerly rushed to perdition. This may not be, pro
bably is not true, in its special detail ; but that men are



142 THE CRATER;

placed here to prepare themselves for a future and higher
condition of existence, is not only agreeable to our con
sciousness, but is in harmony with revelation. Among the
nany things that have been revealed to us, where so many
*re hid, we are told that our information is to increase, as
we draw nearer to the millennium, until " The whole earth
shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the
waters cover the sea." We may be far from that blessed
day; probably are; but he has lived in vain, who has dwelt
his half century in the midst of the civilization of this our
own age, and does not see around him the thousand proofs
of the tendency of things to the fulfilment of the decrees,
announced to us ages ago by the pens of holy men. Rome,
Greece, Egypt, and all that we know of the past, which
comes purely of man and his passions ; empires, dynasties,
heresies and novelties, come and go like the changes of
the seasons ; while the only thing that can be termed stable,
is the slow but sure progress of prophecy. The agencies
that have been employed to bring about the great ends
foretold so many centuries since, are so very natural, that
we often lose sight of the mighty truth in its seeming sim
plicity. But, the signs of the times are not to be mistaken.
Let any man of fifty, for instance, turn his eyes toward the
East, the land of Judea, and compare its condition, its
promises of to-day, with those that existed in his own
youth, and ask himself how the change has been produced.
That which the Richards and Sts. Louis of the middle ages
could not effect with their armed hosts, is about to happen
as a consequence of causes so obvious and simple that they
are actually overlooked by the multitude. The Ottoman
power and Ottoman prejudices are melting away, as it
might be under the heat of divine truth, which is clearing
for itself a path that will lead to the fulfilment of its own
predictions.

Among the agents that are to be employed, in impress
ing the human race with a sense of the power and benevo
lence of the Deity, we think the science of astronomy,
with its mechanical auxiliaries, is to act its full share.
The more deeply we penetrate into the arcana of nature,
the stronger becomes the proofs of design ; and a deity
thus obviously, tangibly admitted, the more profound will



OR, YULCAN'S PEAK. 143

become the reverence for his character and power. In
Mark Woelston's youth, the great progress which has since
been made in astronomy, more especially in the way of its
details through observations, had but just commenced. A
vast deal, it is true, had been accomplished in the way of
pure science, though but little that came home to the un
derstandings and feelings of the mass. Mark's education
had given him an outline of what Herschel and his contem
poraries had been about, however ; and when he sat on the
Summit, communing with the stars, and through those
distant and still unknown worlds, with their Divine First
Cause, it was with as much familiarity with the subject as
usually belongs to the liberally educated, without carrying
a particular branch of learning into its recesses. He had
increased his school acquisitions a little, by the study and
practice of Navigation, and had several works that he was
fond of reading, which may have made him a somewhat
more accurate astronomer than those who get only leading
ideas on the subject. Hours at a time did Mark linger on
the Summit, studying the stars in the clear, transparent
atmosphere of the tropics, his spirit struggling the while
to get into closer communion with that dread Being which
had produced all these mighty results; among which the
existence of the earth, its revolutions, its heats and colds,
its misery and happiness, are but specks in the incidents
of a universe. Previously to this period, he had looked
into these things from curiosity and a love of science ;
now, they impressed him with the deepest sense of the
power and wisdom of the Deity, and caused him the better
to understand his own position in the scale of created
beings.

Not only did our young hermit study the stars with his
own eyes, but he had the aid of instruments. The ship
had two very good spy-glasses, and Mark himself was the
owner of a very neat reflecting telescope, which he had
purchased with his wages, and had brought with him as a
source of amusement and instruction. To this telescope
there was a brass stand, and he conveyed it to the tent on
the Summit, where it was kept for use. Aided by this
instrument, Mark could see the satellites of Jupiter and
Saturn, the ring of the latter, the belts of the former, and



144 THE CRATER;

many of the phenomena of the moon. Of course, the
spherical forms of all the nearer planets, then known to
astronomers, were plainly to be seen by the assistance of
this instrument ; and there is no one familiar fact connected
with our observations of the heavenly bodies, that strikes
the human mind, through the senses, as forcibly as this.
For near a month, Mark almost passed the nights gazing
at the stars, and reflecting on their origin and uses. He
had no expectations of making discoveries, or of even add
ing to his own stores of knowledge : but his thoughts were
brought nearer to his Divine Creator by investigations of
this sort ; for where a zealous mathematician might have
merely exulted in the confirmation of some theory by means
of a fact, he saw the hand of God instead of the solution
of a problem. Thrice happy would it be for the man of
science, could he ever thus hold his powers in subjection to
the great object for which they were brought into existence ;
and, instead of exulting in, and quarrelling about the pride
of human reason, be brought to humble himself and his
utmost learning, at the feet of Infinite Knowledge and
power, and wisdom, as they are thus to be traced in the
path of the Ancient of Days !

By the time his strength returned, Mark had given up,
altogether, the hope of ever seeing Betts again. It was
just possible that the poor fellow might fall in with a ship,
or find his way to some of the islands ; but, if he did so,
it would be the result of chance and not of calculations.
The pinnace was well provisioned, had plenty of water,
and, tempests excepted, was quite equal to navigating the
Pacific ; and there was a faint hope that Bob might con
tinue his course to the eastward, with a certainty of reach
ing some part of South America in time. If he should
take this course, and succeed, what would be the conse
quence ? Who would put sufficient faith in the story of a
simple seaman, like Robert Betts, and send a ship to look
for Mark Woolston ? In these later times, the government
would doubtless despatch a vessel of war on such an errand,
did no other means of rescuing the man offer ; but, at the
close of the last century, government did not exercise that
much of power. It scarcely protected its seamen from the
English press-gang and the Algerine slave-driver ; much



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 145

less did it think of rescuing a solitary individual from a
rock in the midst of the Pacific. American vessels did
then roam over that distant ocean, but it was comparatively
in small numbers, and under circumstances that promised
but little to the hopes of the hermit. It was a subject he
did not like to dwell on, and he kept his thoughts as much
diverted from it as it was in his power so to do.

The season had now advanced into as much of autumn
as could be found within the tropics, and on land so low.
Everything in the garden had ripened, and much had been
thrown out to the pigs and poultry, in anticipation of its
decay. Mark saw that it was time to re-commence his
beds, selecting such seed as would best support the winter
of that climate, if winter it could be called. In looking
around him, he made a regular survey of all his posses
sions, inquiring into the state of each plant he had put into
the ground, as well as into that of the ground itself. First,
then, as respects the plants.

The growth of the oranges, lemons, cocoa-nuts, limes,
figs, &c., placed in rows beneath the cliffs, had been pro
digious. The water had run off the adjacent rocks and
kept them well moistened most of the season, though a
want of rain was seldom known on the Reef. Of the two,
too much, rather than too little water fell ; a circumstance
that was of great service, however, in preserving the stock,
which had used little beside that it found in the pools, for
the last ten months. The shrubs, or little trees, were quite
a foot high, and of an excellent colour. Mark gave each
of them a dressing with the hoe, and manured all with a
sufficient quantity of the guano. About half he transplanted
to spots more favourable, putting the cocoa-nuts, in parti
cular, as near the sea as he could get them.

With respect to the other plants, it was found that each
nad flourished precisely in proportion to its adaptation to
the climate. The products of some were increased in size,
while those of others had dwindled. Mark took note of
these facts, determining to cultivate those most which suc
ceeded best. The melons of both sorts, the tomatoes, the
egg-plants, the peppers, cucumbers, onions, beans, corn,
sweet-potatoes, &c. &.c., had all flourished ; while the Irish
potato, in oarticular, had scarce produced a tuber at all.



146 THE CRATER,-

As for the soil, on examination Mark found it had bees
greatly improved by the manure, tillage and water it had
received. The hogs were again let in to turn it over with
their snouts, and this they did most effectually in the course
of two or three days. By this time, in addition to the
three grown porkers our young man possessed, there were
no less than nine young ones. This number was getting
to be formidable, and he saw the necessity of killing off,
in order to keep them within reasonable limits. One of
the fattest and best he converted into pickled pork, not
from any want of that article, there being still enough left
in the ship to last him several years, but because he pre
ferred it corned to that which had been in the salt so long
a time. He saw the mistake he had made in allowing the
pigs to get to be so large, since the meat would spoil long
before he could consume even the smallest-sized shoats.
For their own good, however, he was compelled to shoot



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 29) → online text (page 13 of 42)