فصل 08

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فصل 08

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The Diamond Cave

For long, long moments we stood staring in the awful stillness of the place; then Jack stepped forward to the bed and we followed him with beating hearts.

There were two skeletons, I saw, lying in a little heap of dust. One was that of a man, and the other that of a dog, its head resting on its master’s chest. We searched the hut for some clue to the identity of this poor man, but we found nothing that helped at all. We talked about him in whispers. I said that he must have been a shipwrecked sailor, cast away with only his cat and dog for company. There seemed to be no other answer.

Then came a sudden exclamation from Peterkin, who was turning over a heap of broken wood and rubbish that lay in a corner.

“Look here! These should be useful.”

“What are they?” asked Jack, hastening across the room.

“An old pistol and an axe,” Peterkin replied.

“We might as well take them,” said Jack quietly, “though the gun won’t be any use without powder.”

We took these things and the iron pot with us. Peter lifted the cat and we left the hut. As we did so, Jack stumbled heavily against the doorpost, which was so decayed that it broke across, and the whole hut seemed ready to tumble about our ears. This put it into our heads that we might as well pull it down and let it form a grave for the skeletons.

Jack swung his axe at the other doorpost and brought the whole hut in ruins to the ground. We continued our journey, though we did not recover our good spirits till we got back to our camp, late on the next day.

For several weeks after this we were busy cutting and shaping wood with which to make a boat. And then one morning, after we had bathed and eaten, Peterkin rose and said: “I could do with a rest. I’m tired of cutting and hammering. Let’s do something different today.”

“All right,” said Jack. “What shall we do?”

I was the first to answer.

“Do you remember the green thing we saw in the water close to the water-spouts? Let’s see if it’s still there.”

The others readily agreed, and we took up our weapons and set out. When we reached the place and gazed down into the sea, there was the same pale green object moving its tail to and fro in the water.

“Well, this beats everything!” said Peterkin. “Let’s have another shot at moving it with my spear.”

A second later his spear flashed down into the water. Down it went, straight into the centre of the green object, passed right through it, and came up again. Below us the mysterious tail still moved quietly to and fro.

We looked at each other.

“I don’t think it’s alive at all,” said Jack. “I think it’s merely a light. Anyway, as long as it isn’t a shark there’s no reason why we shouldn’t dive down to it. I’m going to have a look.”

He stripped off his clothes, joined his hands above his head, and plunged into the sea. For a second or so he was hidden by the spray of his dive; then the water became still and we saw him swimming far down towards the green object.

And then he vanished!

We held our breath and waited for him to reappear. A minute passed, two, three-and still he did not come. We waited a little longer, and then a panic took hold of me. Peterkin started to his feet, his face deadly pale.

“Ralph!” he said hoarsely. “He needs help. Dive for him, Ralph.” I was already on my feet. In a moment I was poised on the edge of the rocks, and was on the point of diving when I saw something black shooting up through the water. Another second and Jack’s head rose to the surface. He gave a shout and shook the spray from his hair; then I put out an arm and helped him clamber up to the ledge.

He sank down, panting for breath.

“Jack,” cried Peterkin, and there were tears in his eyes, “where were you?”

Jack grinned.

“Lads,” he said, “that green object is a stream of light that comes from a cave in the rocks underneath us. I swam right into it, saw a faint light above me, darted up, and found my head out of water. At first I couldn’t see much, it was so dark; but when my eyes got used to the light, I found that I was in a big cave. I could see part of the walls and the roof. I had a good look round; then I thought that you two might be getting a bit worried, so I shot back up again.”

This was enough to make me want to see the cave, but Jack told me to wait for a minute or two because he wanted to take down a torch, and set fire to it in the cave.

I waited while he cut some strips of inflammable bark off a tree, and cemented them together with a kind of gum from another tree. When this was ready, he wrapped it up in several pieces of the coconut cloth; then he took a small piece of the tinder from the old pistol we had found, rolled up some dry grass, and made another bundle protected by the cloth. At last we were ready. We walked to the edge of the rocks, Jack carrying one bundle and I the other. Peterkin, who could not dive, watched us with a mournful face.

“Don’t worry about us, Peterkin,” said Jack. “We may not be back for half an hour.”

The next moment we sprang from the rock together.

It was easy to find the entrance to the cave. I watched Jack swim through, then went straight after him. There was light above me. I came up to the surface and trod water, holding my bundle above my head. As soon as our eyes were used to the faint light, we swam to a shelf of rock and clambered out on to it.

Inside five minutes our torch flared into life. I gazed all round me, struck dumb by the wonders it showed.

The whole place flashed and gleamed. Its roof was made of coral, and from it hung glistening icicles that were really a sort of limestone. As we walked forward along the ledge we saw that the floor was made of the same stuff; its surface all rippled like water when ruffled by the wind.

In the walls on either hand were several openings that seemed to lead off into other caves, but these we did not explore. We moved far into the big cavern, without reaching the end of it. Its walls and roof sparkled in the glare of the torch, and threw back gleams and flashes just as if they were covered with precious stones.

We turned back when the torch began to burn down. What was left of it we placed in a dry spot. Then we plunged back off the ledge, dived through the entrance, and shot up to the surface.

As we dressed and walked home we tried to tell Peterkin all about the wonders of our Diamond Cave, little guessing then how much use it would prove to be in a moment of urgent danger…

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