فصل 06

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فصل 06

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The Water-spouts

I felt a chill run up my back. The sound came again, loud and clear on the still night air-a long and hideous cry. We all started to our feet, and stared out across the sea. The moon had risen and we could see the islands in and beyond the lagoon, but there was nothing stirring anywhere. The sound died away while we were gazing at the sea.

“What is it?” asked Peterkin, in a low, frightened whisper.

“I’ve heard it before,” said Jack, “but never as loud as that. I thought I might have imagined it, so I said nothing to you.”

We listened for a long time, but the sound was not made again. We sat down and started work once more, all of us a little uneasy.

There was a silence.

“Ralph, do you believe in ghosts?” asked Peterkin at last.

I shook my head.

“No,” I said. “I don’t!”

“What about you, Jack?”

“I don’t either. I don’t know what made that sound, but I’ll find out before long. Now, I’ve finished my bow and arrows, so if you’re ready, we’d better get to sleep.”

By this time Peterkin had thinned down his spear and tied an iron point to the end of it, I had made a sling from plaited strips of the coconut cloth, and Jack had made a strong bow, nearly five feet long, with several arrows that he’d feathered from plumes dropped by birds.

So it was that we were all well armed when we set out on our expedition the next morning. The day was still and peaceful, its silence broken only by the little twitter of birds among the bushes and the distant boom of the surf upon the reef.

Half a mile’s walk took us round a bend in the land which shut our camp from view, and for some time we strode on without speaking, till we reached the mouth of a valley that we had not explored before. We were about to turn into it when Peterkin stopped and pointed along the shore.

“What’s that?” he said.

As he spoke, I saw a white column of something like steam or spray shoot up above the rocks. It hung there for a moment and then disappeared. The odd thing was that it was about fifty yards inland, among rocks that stretched across the sandy beach to the sea. As we stood gaping, a second column flew up for a few seconds-and disappeared.

Jack started forward.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s see what it is.”

We reached the spot in a couple of minutes. The rocks were high and steep and damp with the falling of spray. Here and there were holes in the ground. We looked round, puzzled, as there came a low, rumbling sound near us. It grew into a gurgling and hissing that seemed to come from under our feet and a moment later a thick spout of water burst from a hole in the rock only a few feet off. We sprang to one side, but not before a cloud of spray had drenched us to the skin.

Peterkin, who had been well clear, gave a roar of laughter.

“Mind your eye!” he shouted. “There goes another!”

At the same instant a spout shot from another hole and drenched us even more.

Peterkin was now doubled up with laughter, but suddenly there came a loud hiss and a fierce spout of water burst under his legs, threw him off his feet, drenched him in spray, and landed him in a clump of tangled bushes.

It was our turn to laugh; then the three of us ran from the spot before we were caught again.

We looked at our wet and dripping clothes.

“We’ll have to make a fire and dry them,” said Jack.

I carried the burning-glass in my pocket, and in a few minutes we had a fire going and our clothes hanging up before it. While they were drying we walked down to the beach and we soon found out that these curious spoutings took place after the fill of a wave. We decided that there must be an underground channel in the rocks, that the water was driven into it, and that, having no way of escape except through the holes, it was forced up through them.

We moved along the cliff a bit. Suddenly Jack gave a shout. I ran to the overhanging ledge of rock from which he was looking down into the sea.

“What’s that in the water?” he asked. “Is it a shark?”

Down in the water I could see a faint, pale object of a greenish colour, which seemed to be moving slightly

“It’s a fish of some sort,” I said.

Jack turned and yelled for Peterkin.

“Bring your spear,” he bawled.

Peterkin did so but the spear was too short for us to reach the object with it, so Jack raised it, drove it down into the water, and let go his hold. He must have missed. When the spear rose again, there was the pale green object in the same spot, slowly moving its tail.

We took it in turn to plunge the spear into the water again and again, but we could neither hit the thing nor drive it away. We continued our journey without discovering what it was.

As we moved on along the little valley we were lucky enough to find a large supply of yams, and another root like a potato. We stuffed our pockets with them, planning to eat them for our supper.

This valley took us into another, larger, one, in which we found a clump of chestnuts growing on the bank of a stream. Jack struck his axe into one with all his force and split off a large slice of wood, to satisfy himself that we could cut short planks if we needed them at a later date. The sun was sinking as we wended our way back towards the shore. We wanted to camp near the beach because the mosquitoes were so troublesome in the forest. As we went, we were startled by a loud, whistling noise above our heads and saw a flock of wild-ducks making for the coast. We watched them, saw where they came down, and followed after them until we reached a most lovely blue lake about two hundred yards long, from which rose a cloud of ducks and water-hens as we appeared.

Jack suggested that he and I should go a little out of our way to see if we could shoot one of the ducks, while Peterkin went on to the shore and built a fire.

We saw nothing more of the ducks though we searched for half an hour, and we were about to start back when we were faced with one of the strangest sights we had yet seen on the island.

It was on the edge of a clearing. About ten yards in front of us grew a huge tree, with clusters of bright yellow fruit hanging from its branches. Under the tree lay at least twenty hogs of all ages and sizes, all fast asleep.

We watched them for a second, then Jack put a hand on my arm.

“Put a stone in your sling,” he whispered, “and let fly at that big fellow with his back to you. I’ll try to put an arrow in one of the others. Don’t miss if you can help it, for we badly need the meat.”

I slung my stone with such a good aim that it smacked against the hog’s flank as if against a drum. The animal started to its feet with a squeal of surprise, and scampered away through the trees. At the same instant Jack’s bow twanged and an arrow pinned one of the little pigs to the ground by its ear.

“He’s getting away,” Jack yelled, and darted forward with uplifted axe.

The little pig gave a loud squeal, tore the arrow from the ground, and ran away with it, along with the whole drove. We went crashing through the bushes after them, but were unable to catch them.

“No pork supper tonight,” said Jack ruefully. “We’d better hurry up and look for Peterkin.”

We worked our way back towards the shore, where we found a fire burning, but no sign of Peterkin at all. Jack gave a shout. As if in answer, we heard a distant shriek, followed by a chorus of squeals from the hogs.

“I believe Peterkin’s run into them,” I said excitedly.

There was a great deal of squealing, and then a distant shout. Along the beach we saw Peterkin walking towards us with a little pig stuck on the end of his long spear.

“Peterkin, you’re the best shot among us,” said Jack, giving him a slap on the shoulder.

Peterkin held out the pig and pointed to its ear.

“Do you see that hole?” he said. “And do you know this arrow, eh? You hit him first. But never mind that. I’m hungry! Let’s get supper going.”

It took us some time, however, to make up our minds how to cook the pig. We had never cut one up before, and we did not know how to begin. In the end, we cut off the legs with the axe, along with a large part of the flesh, made some deep gashes in them, thrust a sharp-pointed stick through each, and stuck them up before the blaze to roast. While they were cooking, we scraped a hole in the sand and ashes under the fire, put in the vegetables we had found, and covered them up.

The meal, when cooked, seemed to taste better than anything we had ever eaten before. We had our fill, then lay down to sleep upon a couch of branches under an overhanging shelf of rock. We slept soundly and well that night-happily unaware of the gruesome discovery that we were to make the next day.

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