On a certain morning, not very long
ago, the sun, according to his ancient and admirable
custom, rose at a very early hour, and casting his
bright beams far and wide over the Pacific, lighted
up the yellow sands and the verdant hills of one of
the loveliest of the islands of that mighty sea.
It was early morning, as we have said,
and there was plenty of life animal as
well as vegetable to be seen on land and
sea, and in the warm, hazy atmosphere. But there
were no indications of man’s presence in that
beautiful scene. The air was perfectly calm,
yet the gentle swell of the ocean terminated in great
waves, which came rolling in like walls of glass,
and fell on the coral-reef like rushing snow-wreaths
with a roar as loud as thunder.
Thousands of sea-birds screamed and
circled in the sky. Fish leaped high out of
their native element into the air, as if they wished
to catch the gulls, while the gulls, seemingly smitten
with a similar desire, dived into the water as if
they wished to catch the fish. It might have
been observed, however, that while the fish never succeeded
in catching the gulls, the latter very frequently caught
the fish, and, without taking the trouble to kill
them, bolted them down alive.
Cocoanut-palms cast the shadows of
their long stems and graceful tops upon the beach,
while, farther inland, a dense forest of tropical
plants bread-fruit trees, bananas, etcetera rose
up the mountain-sides. Here and there open patches
might be seen, that looked like fields and lawns,
but there were no cottages or villas. Droves
of pigs rambled about the valleys and on the hill-sides,
but they were wild pigs. No man tended them.
The bread-fruits, the cocoanuts, the bananas, the
plantains, the plums, all were beautiful and fit
for food, but no man owned them or used them, for,
like many other spots in that sea of coral isles and
savage men, the island was uninhabited.
In all the wide expanse of ocean that
surrounded that island, there was nothing visible
save one small, solitary speck on the far-off horizon.
It might have been mistaken for a seagull, but it was
in reality a raft a mass of spars and planks
rudely bound together with ropes. A boat’s
mast rose from the centre of it, on which hung a rag
of sail, and a small red flag drooped motionless from
its summit. There were a few casks on the highest
part of the raft, but no living soul was visible.
Nevertheless, it was not without tenants. In
a hollow between two of the spars, under the shadow
of one of the casks, lay the form of a man. The
canvas trousers, cotton shirt, blue jacket, and open
necktie, bespoke him a sailor, but it seemed as though
there were nothing left save the dead body of the
unfortunate tar, so pale and thin and ghastly were
his features. A terrier dog lay beside him, so
shrunken that it looked like a mere scrap of door-matting.
Both man and dog were apparently dead, but they were
not so in reality, for, after lying about an hour
quite motionless, the man slowly opened his eyes.
Ah, reader, it would have touched
your heart to have seen those eyes! They were
so deep set, as if in dark caverns, and so unnaturally
large. They gazed round in a vacant way for a
few moments, until they fell on the dog. Then
a gleam of fire shot through them, and their owner
raised his large, gaunt, wasted frame on one elbow,
while he gazed with a look of eagerness, which was
perfectly awful, at his dumb companion.
“Not dead yet!” he said, drawing
a long sigh.
There was a strange, incongruous mixture
of satisfaction and discontent in the remark, which
was muttered in a faint whisper.
Another gleam shot through the large
eyes. It was not a pleasant look. Slowly,
and as if with difficulty, the man drew a clasp-knife
from his pocket, and opened it. As he did so,
his brows lowered and his teeth became clenched.
It was quite plain what he meant to do. As he
held the open knife over the dog’s head, he
muttered, “Am I to die for the sake of a dog!”
Either the terrier’s slumbers
had come to an end naturally, at a fortunate moment,
or the master’s voice had awakened it, for it
opened its eyes, raised its head, and looked up in
the sailor’s face. The hand with the knife
drooped a little. The dog rose and licked it.
Hunger had done its work on the poor creature, for
it could hardly stand, yet it managed to look in its
master’s face with that grave, simple gaze of
self-forgetting love, which appears to be peculiar
to the canine race. The savage glare of the seaman’s
eyes vanished. He dropped the knife.
“Thanks, Cuffy; thanks for stoppin’
me. It would have been murder! No,
no, my doggie, you and I shall die together.”
His voice sank into a murmur, partly
from weakness and partly from the ideas suggested
by his concluding words.
“Die together!” he repeated,
“surely it ain’t come to that yet.
Wot, John Jarwin, you’re not goin’ to
give in like that, are you? to haul down your colours
on a fine day with a clear sky like this overhead?
Come, cheer up, lad; you’re young and can hold
out a good while yet. Hey, old dog, wot say you?”
The dog made a motion that would,
in ordinary circumstances, have resulted in the wagging
of its tail, but the tail was powerless to respond.
At that moment a gull flew towards
the raft; Jarwin watched it eagerly as it approached.
“Ah,” he muttered, clasping his bony hand
as tightly over his heart as his strength would allow
and addressing the gull, “if I only had hold
of you, I’d tear you limb from limb, and
drink your blood!”
He watched the bird intently as it
flew straight over him. Leaning back, he continued
slowly to follow its flight, until his head rested
on the block of wood which had served him for a pillow.
The support felt agreeable, he forgot the gull, closed
his eyes, and sank with a deep sigh into a slumber
that strongly resembled death.
Presently he awoke with a start, and,
once more raising himself, gazed round upon the sea.
No ship was to be seen. How often he had gazed
round the watery circle with the same anxious look
only to meet with disappointment! The hills
of the coral island were visible like a blue cloud
on the horizon, but Jarwin’s eyes were too dim
and worn out to observe them.
“Come,” he exclaimed,
suddenly, scrambling to his feet, “rouse up,
Cuffy; you an’ I ain’t a-goin’ to
die without a good fight for life. Come along,
my hearty; we’ll have another glass of grog Adam’s
grog it is, but it has been good grog to you an’
me, doggie an’ then we shall have
another inspection o’ the locker; mayhap there’s
the half of a crumb left.”
The comparatively cheery tone in which
the sailor said this seemed to invigorate the dog,
for it rose and actually succeeded in wriggling its
tail as it staggered after its master indubitable
sign of hope and love not yet subdued!
Jarwin went to a cask which still
contained a small quantity of fresh water. Three
weeks before the point at which we take up his story,
a storm had left him and his dog the sole survivors
on the raft of the crew of a barque which had sprung
a leak, and gone to the bottom. His provision
at the time was a very small quantity of biscuit and
a cask of fresh water. Several days before this
the last biscuit had been consumed but the water had
not yet failed. Hitherto John Jarwin had husbanded
his provisions, but now, feeling desperate, he drank
deeply of the few remaining drops of that liquid which,
at the time, was almost as vital to him as his life-blood.
He gave a full draught also to the little dog.
“Share and share alike, doggie,”
he said, patting its head, as it eagerly lapped up
the water; “but there’s no wittles, Cuffy,
an’ ye don’t care for baccy, or ye should
be heartily welcome to a quid.”
So saying, the sailor supplied his
own cheek with a small piece of his favourite weed,
and stood up on the highest part of the raft to survey
the surrounding prospect. He did so without much
hope, for “hope deferred” had at last
made his heart sick. Suddenly his wandering gaze
became fixed and intense. He shaded his eyes
with one hand, and steadied himself against the mast
with the other. There could be no doubt of it!
“Land ho!” he shouted, with a degree of
strength that surprised himself, and even drew from
Cuffy the ghost of a bark. On the strength of
the discovery Jarwin and his dumb friend immediately
treated themselves to another glass of Adam’s
But poor Jarwin had his patience further
tried. Hours passed away, and still the island
seemed as far off as ever. Night drew on, and
it gradually faded from his view. But he had
unquestionably seen land; so, with this to comfort
him, the starving tar lay down beside his dog to spend
another night as he had already spent many
days and nights a castaway on the wide
Morning dawned, and the sailor rose
with difficulty. He had forgotten, for a moment,
the discovery of land on the previous night, but it
was brought suddenly to his remembrance by the roar
of breakers near at hand. Turning in the direction
whence the sound came, he beheld an island quite close
to him, with heavy “rollers” breaking furiously
on the encircling ring of the coral-reef. The
still water between the reef and the shore, which
was about a quarter of a mile wide, reflected every
tree and crag of the island, as if in a mirror.
It was a grand, a glorious sight, and caused Jarwin’s
heart to swell with emotions that he had never felt
before; but his attention was quickly turned to a danger
which was imminent, and which seemed to threaten the
total destruction of his raft, and the loss of his
A very slight breeze a
mere zephyr which had carried him during
the night towards the island, was now bearing him
straight, though slowly, down on the reef, where,
if he had once got involved in the breakers, the raft
must certainly have been dashed to pieces; and he knew
full well, that in his weak condition, he was utterly
incapable of contending with such a surf.
Being a man of promptitude, his first
act, on making this discovery, was to lower the sail.
This was, fortunately, done in time; had he kept it
up a few minutes longer, he must inevitably have passed
the only opening in the reef that existed on that
side of the island. This opening was not more
than fifty yards wide. To the right and left
of it the breakers on the reef extended, in lines
of seething foam. Already the raft was rolling
in the commotion caused by these breakers, as it drifted
towards the opening.
Jarwin was by no means devoid of courage.
Many a time, in days gone by, when his good ship
was tossing on the stormy sea, or scudding under bare
poles, had he stood on the deck with unshaken confidence
and a calm heart, but now he was face to face with
the seaman’s most dreaded enemy “breakers
ahead!” nay, worse, breakers around
him everywhere, save at that one narrow passage, which
appeared so small, and so involved in the general
turmoil, as to afford scarcely an element of hope.
For the first time in his life Jarwin’s heart
sank within him at least so he said in
after years while talking of the event but
we suspect that John was underrating himself.
At all events, he showed no symptoms of fear as he
sat there calmly awaiting his fate.
As the raft approached the reef, each
successive roller lifted it up and dropped it behind
more violently, until at last the top of one of the
glittering green walls broke just as it passed under
the end of the raft nearest the shore. Jarwin
now knew that the next billow would seal his fate.
There was a wide space between each
of those mighty waves. He looked out to sea,
and beheld the swell rising and taking form, and increasing
in speed as it came on. Calmly divesting himself
of his coat and boots, he sat down beside his dog,
and awaited the event. At that moment he observed,
with intense gratitude to the Almighty, that the raft
was drifting so straight towards the middle of the
channel in the reef, that there seemed every probability
of being carried through it; but the hope thus raised
was somewhat chilled by the feeling of weakness which
pervaded his frame.
“Now, Cuffy,” said he,
patting the terrier gently, “rouse up, my doggie;
we must make a brave struggle for life. It’s
neck or nothing this time. If we touch that reef
in passing, Cuff, you an’ I shall be food for
the sharks to-night, an’ it’s my opinion
that the shark as gits us won’t have much occasion
to boast of his supper.”
The sailor ceased speaking abruptly.
As he looked back at the approaching roller he felt
solemnised and somewhat alarmed, for it appeared so
perpendicular and so high from his low position, that
it seemed as if it would fall on and overwhelm the
raft. There was, indeed, some danger of this.
Glancing along its length, Jarwin saw that here and
there the edge was lipping over, while in one place,
not far off, the thunder of its fall had already begun.
Another moment, and it appeared to hang over his
head; the raft was violently lifted at the stern,
caught up, and whirled onward at railway speed, like
a cork in the midst of a boiling cauldron of foam.
The roar was deafening. The tumultuous heaving
almost overturned it several times. Jarwin held
on firmly to the mast with his right arm, and grasped
the terrier with his left hand, for the poor creature
had not strength to resist such furious motion.
It all passed with bewildering speed. It seemed
as if, in one instant, the raft was hurled through
the narrows, and launched into the calm harbour within.
An eddy, at the inner side of the opening, swept
it round, and fixed the end of one of the largest spars
of which it was composed on the beach.
There were fifty yards or so of sandy
coral-reef between the beach outside, that faced the
sea, and the beach inside, which faced the land; yet
how great the difference! The one beach, buffeted
for ever, day and night, by the breakers in
calm by the grand successive rollers that, as it were,
symbolised the ocean’s latent power in
storm by the mad deluge of billows which displayed
that power in all its terrible grandeur. The
other beach, a smooth, sloping circlet of fair white
sand, laved only by the ripples of the lagoon, or
by its tiny wavelets, when a gale chanced to sweep
over it from the land.
Jarwin soon gained this latter beach
with Cuffy in his arms, and sat down to rest, for
his strength had been so much reduced that the mere
excitement of passing through the reef had almost exhausted
him. Cuffy, however, seemed to derive new life
from the touch of earth again, for it ran about in
a staggering drunken sort of way; wagged its tail at
the root, without, however, being able
to influence the point, and made numerous
futile efforts to bark.
In the midst of its weakly gambols
the terrier chanced to discover a dead fish on the
sands. Instantly it darted forward and began
to devour it with great voracity.
“Halo! Cuffy,” shouted
Jarwin, who observed him; “ho! hold on, you
rascal! share and share alike, you know. Here,
fetch it here!”
Cuffy had learned the first great
principle of a good and useful life whether
of man or beast namely, prompt obedience.
That meek but jovial little dog, on receiving this
order, restrained its appetite, lifted the fish in
its longing jaws, and, carrying it to his master, humbly
laid it at his feet. He was rewarded with a
hearty pat on the head, and a full half of the coveted
fish for Jarwin appeared to regard the
“share-and-share-alike” principle as a
point of honour between them.
The fish was not good, neither was
it large, and of course it was raw, besides being
somewhat decayed; nevertheless, both man and dog ate
it, bones and all, with quiet satisfaction.
Nay, reader, do not shudder! If you were reduced
to similar straits, you would certainly enjoy, with
equal gusto, a similar meal, supposing that you had
the good fortune to get it. Small though it
was, it sufficed to appease the appetite of the two
friends, and to give them a feeling of strength which
they had not experienced for many a day.
Under the influence of this feeling,
Jarwin remarked to Cuffy, that “a man could
eat a-most anything when hard put to it,” and
that “it wos now high time to think about goin’
To which Cuffy replied with a bark,
which one might imagine should come from a dog in
the last stage of whooping-cough, and with a wag of
his tail not merely at the root thereof,
but a distinct wag that extended obviously
along its entire length to the extreme point.
Jarwin observed the successful effort, laughed feebly,
and said, “Brayvo, Cuffy,” with evident
delight; for it reminded him of the days when that
little shred of a door-mat, in the might of its vigour,
was wont to wag its tail so violently as to convulse
its whole body, insomuch that it was difficult to
decide whether the tail wagged the body, or the body
But, although Jarwin made light of
his sufferings, his gaunt, wasted frame would have
been a sad sight to any pitiful spectator, as with
weary aspect and unsteady gait he moved about on the
sandy ridge in search of more food, or gazed with
longing eyes on the richly-wooded island.
For it must be remembered that our
castaway had not landed on the island itself, but
on that narrow ring of coral-reef which almost encircled
it, and from which it was separated by the lagoon,
or enclosed portion of the sea, which was, as we have
said, about a quarter of a mile wide.
John Jarwin would have thought little
of swimming over that narrow belt of smooth water
in ordinary circumstances, but now he felt that his
strength was not equal to such a feat. Moreover,
he knew that there were sharks in these waters, so
he dismissed the idea of swimming, and cast about
in his mind how he should manage to get across.
With Jarwin, action soon followed thought.
He resolved to form a small raft out of portions of
the large one. Fortunately his clasp-knife had
been attached, as seamen frequently have it, to his
waist-belt, when he forsook his ship. This was
the only implement that he possessed, but it was invaluable.
With it he managed to cut the thick ropes that he
could not have untied, and, in the course of two hours for
he laboured with extreme difficulty a few
broken planks and spars were lashed together.
Embarking on this frail vessel with his dog, he pushed
off, and using a piece of plank for an oar, sculled
himself over the lagoon.
It was touching, even to himself,
to observe the slowness of his progress. All
the strength that remained in him was barely sufficient
to move the raft. But the lagoon was as still
as a mill-pond. Looking down into its clear
depths, he could see the rich gardens of coral and
sea-weed, among which fish, of varied and brilliant
colours, sported many fathoms below. The air,
too, was perfectly calm.
Very slowly he left the reef astern;
the middle of the lagoon was gained; then, gradually,
he neared the island-shore, but oh! it was a long,
weary pull, although the space was so short, and, to
add to the poor man’s misery, the fish which
he had eaten caused him intolerable thirst.
But he reached the shore at last.
The first thing that greeted his eye
as he landed was the sparkle of a clear spring at
the foot of some cocoanut-trees. He staggered
eagerly towards it, and fell down beside a hollow
in the rock, like a large cup or bowl, which had been
scooped out by it.
Who shall presume to describe the
feelings of that shipwrecked sailor as he and his
dog drank from the same cup at that sparkling crystal
fountain? Delicious odours of lime and citron
trees, and well-nigh forgotten herbage, filled his
nostrils, and the twitter of birds thrilled his ears,
seeming to bid him welcome to the land, as he sank
down on the soft grass, and raised his eyes in thanksgiving
to heaven. An irresistible tendency to sleep
then seized him.
“If there’s a heaven upon
earth, I’m in it now,” he murmured, as
he laid down his head and closed his eyes.
Cuffy, nestling into his breast, placed
his chin on his neck, and heaved a deep, contented
sigh. This was the last sound the sailor recognised,
as he sank into profound repose.