فصل 10

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فصل 10

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  • زمان مطالعه 11 دقیقه
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CHAPTER TEN

Cannibals

I was scared stiff.

At any moment one of the huge waves which curled over in masses of foam might easily swallow up the boat. Water kept washing over the sides and I had to keep on baling alone, for Jack dared not leave the helm nor Peterkin the sail.

Several minutes passed. Then came a shout from Jack.

“Look-a rock-or an island-straight ahead!”

Hope sprang up inside me. I baled furiously, then sat up and looked ahead. I had not seen the island before because of the dark clouds that filled the sky, and the blinding spray that flew into my eyes.

The island was bare of trees-a sea-pounded stretch of coral sand that rose only two or three feet out of the water. And my heart sank again when I saw that there was not a spot where we could thrust our little boat without its being dashed to pieces.

“Show a bit more sail,” Jack ordered, as we went sweeping past the weather side of the rock with fearful speed it seemed we would be swept passed the island.

The extra bit of sail was enough to lay the boat right over. It creaked so loudly that I felt sure it would overturn, but somehow Jack managed to steer us sharply round to the leeward side of the rock, where the water seemed almost calm and the force of the wind was broken.

“Out with the oars!” Jack cried.

We obeyed at once. Two or three good strong pulls on the oars and we were floating in a little creek so narrow that it would barely admit the boat. We leaped ashore and made our craft fast to the rocks. Even then our plight was far from happy. We had brought plenty of food with us, but we were drenched to the skin, the attacking sea was foaming all round us, and the spray flew over our heads. At the upper end of the creek, however, was a small hollow in the rock, which would give us some shelter against the sea and wind.

We landed our provisions, wrung the water out of our clothing, spread our sail for a carpet, and ate a cold meal.

By then we were feeling more cheerful, but as night drew on our spirits sank again.

We lay there in the darkness, unable to see the rock, and stunned by the fury of the storm. From time to time the spray blew into our faces and the sea, in its mad boiling, washed up into our little creek until it reached our feet. Flashes of lightning shone with a ghastly glare through the watery curtains around us and gave an added horror to the scene, while crashing peals of thunder seemed to split the skies in two.

Again and again we fancied that the solid rock was giving way, and in our agony we clung to the bare ground, expecting every second to be whirled away into the black, howling sea.

Somehow the hours dragged by, and at last we saw the gleam of dawn breaking through the mists. This, however, was not the end of our ordeal…

For three days and nights we were chained to that rock, and all the time the storm raged with unabated fury. Then, on the morning of the fourth day, the wind dropped. By the middle of the morning the sea was dead calm and the sun was shining.

It was with light hearts that we launched our boat once more and pulled away for Coral Island. The breeze rose an hour later, but we did not reach the outer reef till dusk. The moon and stars were shining in the sky when we came to our camp and found the poor old black cat curled up asleep inside. For many months after we lived happily enough. Sometimes we went fishing in the lagoon, sometimes we hunted in the woods, and often we climbed to the mountain-top to look for passing ships.

The weather was so fine, our island so beautiful, that it all seemed like a never-ending summer-until there happened something that was alarming and horrible.

It was when we were sitting on the rocks at Spouting Cliff one day that I noticed the two dark objects that had appeared on the horizon.

We stared at them for a long time.

“They’re coming closer,” I said.

“I think they’re whales,” said Peterkin, shading his eyes with his hands. “No, wait-can they be boats, Jack?”

Jack gazed out across the sea.

“They are boats,” he said at last.

I felt my heart begin to pound with excitement.

We were all on our feet now, staring out across the sunlit sea. Suddenly Jack gave a start.

“They’re canoes,” he said. “They may be war-canoes. I don’t like the look of this. We mustn’t forget that a lot of the natives of these islands are fierce cannibals. We’d better hide until we know what to make of them. Come on- behind the rocks!”

A minute later we lay hidden, each one of us with a thick club in his hand and his eyes on the approaching canoes.

It was soon clear that one was chasing the other. The one in the lead held about forty people, among them a few women and children. The canoe which pursued them held only men, who were paddling with all their might. It looked like a war-canoe.

The first canoe made for the shore almost right below us. The paddles flashed in and out of the water and threw up a shower of spray. From where I lay I could see the eyes of the paddlers glistening in the sunlight. As the canoe grounded on the sand, the whole party sprang to the shore. Three women and a girl rushed away into the woods, while the men crowded to the water’s edge, waving spears and clubs as if to threaten the approaching enemy.

The second canoe came on unchecked. It struck the beach, and its savage crew leaped into the water and rushed to the attack.

The attackers were led by a tall, strong chief whose hair was frizzed out all round his head. It was light yellow in colour and I could only think that it must have been dyed. He was tattooed from head to foot, his whole body smeared and streaked with red and white paint.

The battle that followed was frightful to watch. Most of the men wielded great clubs, with which they dashed out each other’s brains.

As they leaped and bounded and pounced for the kill, they looked more like devils than human beings. I felt my heart grow sick within me at the awful sights I saw.

Suddenly the yellow-haired chief was attacked by a man as big and strong as himself. The two fought like demons, and then in an instant Yellow Hair tripped and crashed down to the ground. His enemy sprang forward, club upraised, but before he could strike he, too, was felled to the ground by a stone from the hand of one who had seen his chief ‘s danger.

That was the turning point. The savages who had landed first turned and fled towards the woods, but not one of them escaped. All were overtaken and dragged to the ground. Fifteen were seized alive, tied hand and foot with cords, and thrown down upon the sand. Then they were left where they lay while their captors moved along the beach and began dressing their wounds and three or four of their number were sent running into the woods to search for the women we had seen come ashore.

Still we stayed behind our rock. I saw another of the savages go up into the woods and return with a great bundle of firewood. He crouched down upon the sand and soon had a big fire blazing on the beach. Yellow Hair gave a shout, and two of his followers went over to the captives and began dragging one of them towards the fire.

A dreadful feeling of horror crept over me. I could see that these savages meant to burn their enemies. I gasped for breath and made to spring to my feet, but Jack grabbed hold of me and held me where I was. A second later one of the savages swung up his club to smash it down on the skull of his enemy. It was horrible. I turned away, and when I looked again Yellow Hair and his men were roasting something over the fire. I could guess what it was…

There came a scream from the woods. A minute later two of the savages came out of the woods, one dragging by the hair a woman who carried a baby in her arms, and the other struggling with the girl we had already seen. Yellow Hair rose and walked towards the woman carrying the baby. He put his hand upon the child. The woman wailed in fear and shrank away from him. He let out a wild laugh, tore the child from her arms, and threw it violently down upon the sands. The mother shrieked and crumpled in a faint.

I heard Jack moan.

The young girl was dragged forward, and Yellow Hair spoke to her. It seemed to me, by the way he pointed to the fire, that he was threatening her life.

A great hatred took hold of me.

“Peterkin,” said Jack, in a hoarse whisper, “have you got your knife?”

“Yes,” replied Peterkin in a strange voice.

I looked at him and saw that he was as white as death.

“Listen,” said Jack between his teeth, “I want you to make a dash for the prisoners, and cut them loose. I’ll keep the others busy. Go on, before it’s too late.”

He rose, his great club gripped in his hand. I heard him give a yell that rang like a death-shriek among the rocks. He went leaping towards the savages.

“Come on,” cried Peterkin to me, and the two of us went darting across the sands towards the prisoners.

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