Whilst we continued to talk and to admire the beauty of the stars, they at length began to fade away before the first light of morning. Ernest returned to us, and we awoke Jack, who had slept uninterruptedly, and was quite unconscious where he was. We returned to the pass, which now, by the light of day, seemed to us in a more hopeless state than in the dusk of evening. I was struck with consternation: it appeared to me that we were entirely enclosed at this side; and I shuddered to think of crossing the island again, to pass round at the other end, of the risk we should run of meeting wild beasts, and of the painful and perilous passage along the coral reefs. At that moment I would gladly have consented to open a passage through the grotto, at the hazard of any visitors, in order to get through myself, that I might relieve the anxious feelings of my dear wife and boy. The thoughts of their agony unnerved me, and took away all courage for the commencement of a labour which seemed impossible, our only utensils being a small saw, and a little dibble for taking up plants, which Ernest had been unwilling to leave behind us. The path by which Jack and I had passed was covered with rocks and masses of soil, which obstructed even the course of the stream; we could not discover the place we had forded, the river had opened itself a wider course, far beyond its former one.
“It is impossible,” said Fritz, gazing on the ruins, “that we can remove all these immense stones without proper tools; but, perhaps, with a little courage, we may cross over them, the rivulet being widened cannot be very deep. At all events, it cannot be worse than the coral reefs.”
“Let us try; but I fear it will be impossible, at least for him,” said I, pointing to Jack.
“Him, indeed, papa, and why not?” said the bold fellow; “he is perhaps as strong, and more active, than some of them; ask Fritz what he thinks of his workman. Shall I go the first to show you the way?”
And he was advancing boldly, but I checked him, and said, that before we undertook to scale these masses of rock, absolutely bare, where we had nothing to support us, or to hold by, it would be as well to examine if, by descending lower, we could not find a less dangerous road. We descended to the narrow pass, and found our drawbridge, plantation, all our fortification that my boys were so proud of, and where, at Fritz’s request, I had even planted a small cannon, all, all destroyed; the cannon swallowed up with the rest. My boys deplored their disappointment; but I showed them how useless such a defence must ever be. Nature had provided us with a better fortification than we could construct, as we just now bitterly experienced.
We had descended several yards lower with incredible difficulty, plunged in a wet, heavy soil, and obliged to step across immense stones, when Fritz, who went first, cried out, joyfully
“The roof, papa! the roof of our chalet! it is quite whole; it will be a bridge for us if we can only get to it.”
“What roof? What chalet?” said I, in astonishment.
“The roof of our little hermitage,” said he, “which we had covered so well with stones, like the Swiss chalets.”
I then recollected that I had made this little hut, after the fashion of the Swiss chalet, of bark, with a roof nearly flat and covered with stones, to secure it against the winds. It was this circumstance, and its situation, that had saved it in the storm. I had placed it opposite the cascade, that we might see the fall in all its beauty, and, consequently, a little on one side of the passage filled up by the fall of the rocks. Some fragments reached the roof of the hut, and we certainly could not have entered it; but the chalet was supported by this means, and the roof was still standing and perfectly secure. We contrived to slide along the rock which sustained it; Jack was the first to stand on the roof and sing victory. It was very easy to descend on the other side, holding by the poles and pieces of bark, and we soon found ourselves safe in our own island. Ernest had lost his gun in the passage: not being willing to resign his bag of curiosities, he had dropped the gun into the abyss.
“You may take the gun I left in the canoe,” said Fritz; “but, another time, throw away your stones, and keep your gun you will find it a good friend in need.”
“Let us embark in our canoe,” cried Jack. “The sea! the sea! Long live the waves! they are not so hard as the stones.”
I was very glad to have the opportunity of conveying my canoe back to the port of Tent House; our important occupations had prevented me till now, and everything favoured the plan: the sea was calm, the wind favourable, and we should arrive at home sooner, and with less fatigue, than by land. We skirted the great Bay to the Cabbage-palm Wood. I had moored the canoe so firmly to one of the palms, that I felt secure of it being there. We arrived at the place, and no canoe was there! The mark of the cord which fastened it was still to be seen round the tree, but the canoe had entirely disappeared. Struck with astonishment, we looked at each other with terror, and without being able to articulate a word. What was become of it?
“Some animal, the jackals; a monkey, perhaps, might have detached it,” said Jack; “but they could not have eaten the canoe.” And we could not find a trace of it, any more than of the gun Fritz had left in it.
This extraordinary circumstance gave me a great deal of thought. Natives, surely, had landed on our island, and carried off our canoe. We could no longer doubt it when we discovered on the sands the print of naked feet! It is easy to believe how uneasy and agitated I was. I hastened to take the road to Tent House, from which we were now more than three leagues distant. I forbade my sons to mention this event, or our suspicions, to their mother, as I knew it would rob her of all peace of mind. I tried to console myself. It was possible that chance had conducted them to the Bay, that they had seen our pretty canoe, and that, satisfied with their prize, and seeing no inhabitants, they might not return. Perhaps, on the contrary, these islanders might prove kind and humane, and become our friends. There was no trace of their proceedings further than the shore.
We called at The Farm, on purpose to examine. All appeared in order; and certainly, if they had reached here, there was much to tempt them: our cotton mattresses, our osier seats, and some household utensils that my wife had left here. Our geese and fowls did not appear to have been alarmed, but were pecking about as usual for worms and insects. I began to hope that we might get off with the loss of our canoe, a loss which might be repaired. We were a sufficient number, being well armed, not to be afraid of a few natives, even if they penetrated further into the island, and showed hostile intentions. I exhorted my sons to do nothing to irritate them; on the contrary, to meet them with kindness and attention, and to commit no violence against them unless called on to defend their lives. I also recommended them to select from the wrecked chest, some articles likely to please the natives, and to carry them always about with them. “And I beseech you, once more,” added I, “not to alarm your mother.” They promised me; and we continued our road unmolested to Falcon’s Nest. Jack preceded us, delighted, he said, to see our castle again, which he hoped the natives had not carried away. Suddenly, we saw him return, running, with terror painted on his countenance.
“They are there!” said he; “they have taken possession of it; our dwelling is full of them. Oh! how frightful they are! What a blessing mamma is not there; she would have died of fright to see them enter.”
I confess I was much agitated; but, not wishing to expose my children to danger before I had done all in my power to prevent it, I ordered them to remain behind till I called them. I broke a branch from a tree hastily, which I held in one hand, and in the other some long nails, which I found by chance in the bottom of my pocket; and I advanced thus to my Tree-Castle. I expected to have found the door of my staircase torn open and broken, and our new guests ascending and descending; but I saw at once it was closed as I had left it; being of bark, it was not easily distinguished. How had these natives reached the dwelling, forty feet from the ground? I had placed planks before the great opening; they were no longer there; the greater part of them had been hurled down to the ground, and I heard such a noise in our house, that I could not doubt Jack’s report. I advanced timidly, holding up in the air the branch and my offerings, when I discovered, all at once, that I was offering them to a troop of monkeys, lodged in the fortress, which they were amusing themselves by destroying. We had numbers of them in the island; some large and mischievous, against whom we had some difficulty in defending ourselves when crossing the woods, where they principally dwelt. The frequent report of fire-arms round our dwelling had kept them aloof till now, when, emboldened by our absence, and enticed by the figs on our tree, they had come in crowds. These vexatious animals had got through the roof, and, once in, had thrown down the planks that covered the opening; they made the most frightful grimaces, throwing down everything they could seize.
Although this devastation caused me much vexation, I could not help laughing at their antics, and at the humble and submissive manner in which I had advanced to pay homage to them. I called my sons, who laughed heartily, and rallied “the prince of the monkeys” without mercy, for not knowing his own subjects. Fritz wished much to discharge his gun amongst them, but I forbade him. I was too anxious to reach Tent House, to be able to turn my thoughts on these depredators just now.
We continued our journey but I pause here; my heart is oppressed. My feelings when I reached home require another chapter to describe them, and I must summon courage for the task.