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A TERRIBLE DIVE
Sagacious and moral remarks in regard to life—A sail!—An unexpected salute—The end
of the black cat—A terrible dive—An incautious proceeding and a frightful catastrophe.
 LIFE is a strange compound. Peterkin used to say of it that it beat a druggist's shop all to sticks;
for whereas the first is a compound of good and bad, the other is a horrible compound of all that is
utterly detestable. And indeed the more I consider it the more I am struck with the strange mixture
of good and evil that exists not only in the material earth but in our own natures. In our own Coral
Island we had experienced every variety of good that a bountiful Creator could heap on us. Yet on
the night of the storm we had seen how almost, in our case—and altogether, no doubt, in the
case of others less fortunate—all this good might be swept away for ever. We had seen the
rich fruit-trees waving in the soft air, the tender herbs shooting upwards under the benign
influence of the bright sun; and the next day we had seen these good and beautiful trees and plants
uprooted by the hurricane, crushed and hurled to the ground in destructive devastation. We had lived
for many months in a clime for the most part so beautiful that we had often wondered whether Adam
and Eve had found Eden more sweet; and we had seen the quiet solitudes of our paradise
 suddenly broken in upon by ferocious savages, and the white sands stained with blood and strewed
with lifeless forms; yet among these cannibals we had seen many symptoms of a kindly nature. I
pondered these things much, and while I considered them there recurred to my memory those words
which I had read in my Bible—"The works of God are wonderful, and His ways past finding out."
After these poor savages had left us we used to hold long and frequent conversations about them, and
I noticed that Peterkin's manner was now much altered. He did not, indeed, jest less heartily than
before, but he did so less frequently, and often there was a tone of deep seriousness in his manner,
if not in his words, which made him seem to Jack and me as if he had grown two years older within a
few days. But indeed I was not surprised at this, when I reflected on the awful realities which we
had witnessed so lately. We could by no means shake off a tendency to gloom for several weeks
afterwards; but as time wore away our usual good spirits returned somewhat, and we began to think of
the visit of the savages with feelings akin to those with which we recall a terrible dream.
One day we were all enjoying ourselves in the Water Garden, preparatory to going on a fishing
excursion; for Peterkin had kept us in such constant supply of hogs that we had become quite tired
of pork, and desired a change. Peterkin was sunning himself on the ledge of rock, while we were
creeping among the rocks below. Happening to look up, I observed Peterkin cutting the most
extraordinary capers and making violent gesticulations for us to come up; so I gave Jack a push and
"A sail! a sail!—Ralph, look; Jack, away on the
horizon there, just over the entrance to the lagoon!" cried Peterkin, as we scrambled up the rocks.
"So it is, and a schooner, too!" said Jack, as he proceeded hastily to dress.
Our hearts were thrown into a terrible flutter by this discovery, for if it should touch at our
island we had no doubt the captain would be happy to give us a passage to some of the civilised
islands, where we could find a ship sailing for England, or some other part of Europe. Home, with
all its associations, rushed in upon my heart like a flood; and much though I loved the Coral Island
and the bower, which had now been our home so long, I felt that I could have quitted all at that
moment without a sigh. With joyful anticipations we hastened to the highest point of rock near our
dwelling, and awaited the arrival of the vessel; for we now perceived that she was making straight
for the island, under a steady breeze.
In less than an hour she was close to the reef, where she rounded to and backed her topsails, in
order to survey the coast. Seeing this, and fearing that they might not perceive us, we all three
waved pieces of cocoa-nut cloth in the air, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing them beginning
to lower a boat and bustle about the decks as if they meant to land. Suddenly a flag was run up to
the peak, a little cloud of white smoke rose from the schooner's side, and before we could guess
their intentions, a cannon-shot came crashing through the bushes, carried away several cocoa-nut
trees in its passage, and burst in atoms against the cliff a few yards below the spot on which we
With feelings of terror we now observed that the flag at the schooner's peak was black, with a
Death's-head and cross-bones upon it. As we gazed at each other in
blank amazement, the word "pirate" escaped our lips simultaneously.
"What is to be done?" cried Peterkin, as we observed a boat shoot from the vessel's side and make
for the entrance of the reef. "If they take us off the island, it will either be to throw us
overboard for sport, or to make pirates of us."
I did not reply, but looked at Jack, as being our only resource in this emergency. He stood with
folded arms, and his eyes fixed with a grave, anxious expression on the ground. "There is but one
hope," said he, turning with a sad expression of countenance to Peterkin; "perhaps, after all, we
may not have to resort to it. If these villains are anxious to take us, they will soon overrun the
whole island. But come, follow me."
Stopping abruptly in his speech, Jack bounded into the woods, and led us by a circuitous route to
Spouting Cliff. Here he halted, and, advancing cautiously to the rocks, glanced over their edge. We
were soon by his side, and saw the boat, which was crowded with armed men, just touching the shore.
In an instant the crew landed, formed line, and rushed up to our bower.
In a few seconds we saw them hurrying back to the boat, one of them swinging the poor cat round his
head by the tail. On reaching the water's edge, he tossed it far into the sea, and joined his
companions, who appeared to be holding a hasty council.
"You see what we may expect," said Jack bitterly. "The man who will wantonly kill a poor brute for
sport will think little of murdering a fellow-creature. Now, boys, we have but one chance
left—the Diamond Cave."
"The Diamond Cave!" cried Peterkin; "then my chance is a poor one, for I could not dive into it if
all the pirates on the Pacific were at my heels."
 "Nay, but," said I, "we will take you down, Peterkin, if you will only trust us."
As I spoke, we observed the pirates scatter over the beach, and radiate, as if from a centre,
towards the woods and along shore.
"Now, Peterkin," said Jack in a solemn tone, "you must make up your mind to do it, or we must make
up our minds to die in your company."
"O Jack, my dear friend," cried Peterkin, turning pale, "leave me; I don't believe they'll think it
worth while to kill me. Go, you and Ralph, and dive into the cave."
"That will not I," answered Jack quietly, while he picked up a stout cudgel from the
ground.—"So now, Ralph, we must prepare to meet these fellows. Their motto is, 'No quarter.'
If we can manage to floor those coming in this direction, we may escape into the woods for a while."
"There are five of them," said I; "we have no chance."
"Come, then," cried Peterkin, starting up, and grasping Jack convulsively by the arm, "let us dive;
I will go."
Those who are not naturally expert in the water know well the feelings of horror that overwhelm
them, when in it, at the bare idea of being held down even for a few seconds—that spasmodic,
involuntary recoil from compulsory immersion which has no connection whatever with cowardice; and
they will understand the amount of resolution that it required in Peterkin to allow himself to be
dragged down to a depth of ten feet, and then, through a narrow tunnel, into an almost pitch-dark
cavern. But there was no alternative. The pirates had already caught sight of us, and were now
within a short distance of the rocks.
 Jack and I seized Peterkin by the arms.
"Now, keep quite still; no struggling," said Jack, "or we are lost."
Peterkin made no reply, but the stern gravity of his marble features, and the tension of his
muscles, satisfied us that he had fully made up his mind to go through with it. Just as the pirates
gained the foot of the rocks, which hid us for a moment from their view, we bent over the sea, and
plunged down together head foremost. Peterkin behaved like a hero. He floated passively between us
like a log of wood, and we passed the tunnel and rose into the cave in a shorter space of time than
I had ever done it before.
Peterkin drew a long, deep breath on reaching the surface, and in a few seconds we were all standing
on the ledge of rock in safety. Jack now searched for the tinder and torch which always lay in the
cave. He soon found them, and, lighting the torch, revealed to Peterkin's wondering gaze the marvels
of the place. But we were too wet to waste much time in looking about us. Our first care was to take
off our clothes and wring them as dry as we could. This done, we proceeded to examine into the state
of our larder, for, as Jack truly remarked, there was no knowing how long the pirates might remain
on the island.
"Perhaps," said Peterkin, "they may take it into their heads to stop here altogether, and so we
shall be buried alive in this place."
"Don't you think, Peterkin, that it's the nearest thing to being drowned alive that you ever felt?"
said Jack with a smile. "But I have no fear of that. These villains never stay long on shore. The
sea is their home, so you may depend upon it that they won't stay more than a day or two at the
 We now began to make arrangements for spending the night in the cavern. At various periods Jack and
I had conveyed cocoa-nuts and other fruits, besides rolls of cocoa-nut cloth, to this submarine
cave, partly for amusement, and partly from a feeling that we might possibly be driven one day to
take shelter here from the savages. Little did we imagine that the first savages who would drive us
into it would be white savages, perhaps our own countrymen. We found the cocoa-nuts in good
condition, and the cooked yams, but the bread-fruits were spoiled. We also found the cloth where we
had left it, and on opening it out there proved to be sufficient to make a bed; which was important,
as the rock was damp. Having collected it all together, we spread out our bed, placed our torch in
the midst of us, and ate our supper. It was indeed a strange chamber to feast in; and we could not
help remarking on the cold, ghastly appearance of the walls, and the black water at our side, with
the thick darkness beyond, and the sullen sound of the drops that fell at long intervals from the
roof of the cavern into the still water, and the strong contrast between all this and our bed and
supper, which, with our faces, were lit up with the deep red flame of the torch.
We sat long over our meal, talking together in subdued voices, for we did not like the dismal echoes
that rang through the vault above when we happened to raise them. At last the faint light that came
through the opening died away, warning us that it was night and time for rest. We therefore put out
our torch and lay down to sleep.
On awaking, it was some time ere we could collect our faculties so as to remember where we were, and
we were in much uncertainty as to whether it was early or
 late. We saw by the faint light that it was day, but could not guess at the hour; so Jack proposed
that he should dive out and reconnoitre.
"No, Jack," said I; "do you rest here. You've had enough to do during the last few days. Rest
yourself now, and take care of Peterkin, while I go out to see what the pirates are about. I'll be
very careful not to expose myself, and I'll bring you word again in a short time."
"Very well, Ralph," answered Jack, "please yourself, but don't be long; and if you'll take my advice
you'll go in your clothes, for I would like to have some fresh cocoa-nuts, and climbing trees
without clothes is uncomfortable, to say the least of it."
"The pirates will be sure to keep a sharp look-out," said Peterkin, "so, pray, be careful."
"No fear," said I; "good-bye."
"Good-bye," answered my comrades.
And while the words were yet sounding in my ears, I plunged into the water, and in a few seconds
found myself in the open air. On rising, I was careful to come up gently and to breathe softly,
while I kept close in beside the rocks; but as I observed no one near me, I crept slowly out, and
ascended the cliff a step at a time, till I obtained a full view of the shore. No pirates were to be
seen—even their boat was gone; but as it was possible they might have hidden themselves, I did
not venture too boldly forward. Then it occurred to me to look out to sea, when, to my surprise, I
saw the pirate schooner sailing away almost hull down on the horizon! On seeing this I uttered a
shout of joy. Then my first impulse was to dive back to tell my companions the good news; but I
checked myself, and ran to the top of the cliff, in order to make sure that the vessel I saw
 was indeed the pirate schooner. I looked long and anxiously at her, and giving vent to a deep sigh
of relief, said aloud, "Yes, there she goes; the villains have been balked of their prey this time
"Not so sure of that!" said a deep voice at my side, while at the same moment a heavy hand grasped
my shoulder, and held it as if in a vise.