فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER FOUR

The Shark

We moved closer to the tree-stump and looked at it closely. There could be no doubt at all that it had been cut by the hand of man. The wood was all decayed and partly covered with moss, so that it must have been done a long time before.

We stared at it in silence for a few seconds.

“Perhaps a ship put in here for wood,” said Peterkin.

Jack shook his head.

“That’s not the answer,” he said. “The crew of a ship would cut any wood they wanted close to the shore. This was a large tree-and it stood near the top of the mountain.” He frowned and scratched at the stump with his axe. “I can’t understand it,” he went on. “It must be the work of savages-but wait a moment! What’s this?”

He bent over the stump as he spoke and began to scrape more carefully. As the moss fell away, I saw three distinct marks, as if someone had carved his initials upon the trunk. They looked like J. S., but were so broken up that we could not be sure what they were.

It was all very puzzling and we spent a long time wondering how the marks had got there. Then, as the day was wearing on, we began climbing once more.

From the top of the mountain we could see our kingdom laid out like a map beneath us, with all its woods and valleys, plains and sparkling streams. It was roughly circular in shape and about ten miles across, the whole island belted by a beach of pure white sand, on which washed the gentle ripples of the lagoon. Out at sea lay about a dozen other islands at various distances from half a mile to ten miles. All of them, as far as we could tell, were smaller than ours and much lower on the sea.

As the day was now well on we turned back the way we had come. We had not gone far when once more we found traces of man. These were a pole or staff, and one or two blocks of wood which had been squared with an axe. All were very much decayed and must have lain untouched for years. We also found the prints of some four-footed animal, but could not tell whether they were old or new.

We sat up late that night, talking our heads off and trying to solve the riddle of the felled tree. At last, however, we made up our minds that the island must be uninhabited, and went to bed.

For several days after we did not go far from our camp. We bathed a lot, talked a great deal, and, among other useful things, Jack turned about three inches of the hoop-iron into a fine sharp knife. First he beat it quite flat with the axe. Then he made a rough handle, tied the hoop-iron to it with our piece of cord, and ground the iron to an edge on a piece of hard sandstone. When the blade was finished, he used it to shape a better handle.

Peterkin then tried using the cord as a fishing-line. To the end of it he tied a piece of oyster; this the fish were allowed to swallow, and then they were pulled ashore. As the line was very short, however, and we had no boat, the fish we caught were all very small.

One day Peterkin came up from the beach, where he had been fishing, and said:

“Jack, I think we ought to have a shot at making a boat. I want to go fishing in deeper water.”

Jack thought about it for a minute or two.

“I’ll tell you what we could do,” he said at last. “We’ll fell a large tree and launch the trunk of it in the water. We could all float on that.”

It seemed to be a good idea. We found a tree that grew close to the water’s edge, and Jack set to work with the axe. Within half an hour it came crashing down. “Now for it!” he cried. “Off with its head!”

While he was lopping off the branches, Peterkin and I shaped two rough paddles, and then the three of us rolled the log into the lagoon.

Once it was well afloat, we climbed aboard. This was easy to do; but after seating ourselves astride the log we found that it rolled round and plunged us into the water. It took an hour’s practice for us to become expert enough to keep our balance pretty steadily.

We decided to go deep-sea fishing.

Peterkin baited his line with a whole oyster. Then we paddled out and dropped the line into deep water.

After a minute or two Peterkin gave an excited shout.

“There’s a big fellow down there. Gosh! He’s swallowed the bait! What a whacker!”

I could see that the fish was a big one. As it came struggling to the surface we all leaned forward to see it-and overturned the log. Peterkin threw his arms round the neck of the fish, and in another instant we were all floundering in the water.

We rose to the surface like three drowned rats and seized hold of the log. One by one we climbed back on to it and sat more warily while Peterkin secured the fish and rebaited the line. Then he dropped it in again.

Suddenly there was a ripple on the sea, only a few yards from us. Peter shouted for us to paddle in that direction. As I swung up my paddle I heard Jack give a shout that froze the blood in my veins.

“Peterkin, pull in the line! Grab your paddle, quick!- It’s a shark!”

A second later I saw a sharp fin appear above the surface of the water and cut through it towards the log.

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