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A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 15773

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

There was one place that I wished, particularly, to visit before I left, and that was what the people in Nassau called the Coral-reef. There were lots of coral-reefs all about the islands, but this one was easily visited, and for this reason, I suppose, was chosen as a representative of its class. I had been there before, and had seen all the wonders of the reef through a water-glass,-which is a wooden box, with a pane of glass at one end and open at the other. You hold the glass end of this box just under the water, and put your face to the open end, and then you can see down under the water, exactly as if you were looking through the air. And on this coral-reef, where the water was not more than twelve or fourteen feet deep, there were lots of beautiful things to see. It was like a submarine garden. There was coral in every form and shape, and of different colors; there were sea-feathers, which stood up like waving purple trees, most of them a foot or two high, but some a good deal higher; there were sea-fans, purple and yellow, that spread themselves up from the curious bits of coral-rock on the bottom, and there were ever so many other things that grew like bushes and vines, and of all sorts of colors. Among all these you could see the fishes swimming about, as if they were in a great aquarium. Some of these fishes were very large, with handsome black bands across their backs, but the prettiest were some little fellows, no bigger than sardines, that swam in among the branches of the sea-feathers and fans. They were colored bright blue, and yellow and red; some of them with two or three colors apiece. Rectus called them "humming-fishes." They did remind me of humming-birds, although they didn't hum.

When I came here before, I was with a party of ladies and gentlemen. We went in a large sail-boat, and took several divers with us, to go down and bring up to us the curious things that we would select, as we looked through the water-glass. There wasn't anything peculiar about these divers. They wore linen breeches for diving dresses, and were the same kind of fellows as those who dived for pennies at the town.

Now, what I wanted to do, was to go to the coral-reef and dive down and get something for myself. It would be worth while to take home a sea-fan or something of that kind, and say you brought it up from the bottom of the sea yourself. Any one could get things that the divers had brought up. To be sure, the sea wasn't very deep here, but it had a bottom, all the same. I was not so good a swimmer as these darkeys, who ducked and dived as if they had been born in the water, but I could swim better than most fellows, and was particularly good at diving. So I determined, if I could get a chance, to go down after some of those things on the coral-reef.

I couldn't try this, before, because there were too many people along, but Rectus, who thought the idea was splendid, although he didn't intend to dive himself, agreed to hire a sail-boat with me, and go off to the reef, with only the darkey captain.

We started as early as we could get off, on the morning after we had been at Fort Charlotte. The captain of the yacht-they give themselves and their sail-boats big titles here-was a tall colored man, named Chris, and he took two big darkey boys with him, although we told him we didn't want any divers. But I suppose he thought we might change our minds. I didn't tell him I was going to dive. He might not have been willing to go in that case.

We had a nice sail up the harbor, between the large island upon which the town stands, and the smaller ones that separate the harbor from the ocean. After sailing about five miles, we turned out to sea between two islands, and pretty soon were anchored over the reef.

"Now, then, boss," said Captain Chris, "don't ye want these here boys to do some divin' for ye?"

"I told you I wouldn't want them," said I. "I'm going to dive, myself."

"You dive, boss!" cried all three of the darkeys at once, and the two boys began to laugh.

"Ye can't do that, boss," said the captain. "Ef ye aint used to this here kind o' divin', ye can't do nothin' at all, under this water. Ye better let the boys go for ye."

"No," said I, "I'm going myself," and I began to take off my clothes.

The colored fellows didn't like it much, for it seemed like taking their business away from them; but they couldn't help it, and so they just sat and waited to see how things would turn out.

"You'd better take a look through the glass, before you dive," said Rectus, "and choose what you're going to get."

"I'm not going to be particular," I replied. "I shall get whatever I can."

"The tide's pretty strong," said the captain. "You've got to calkelate fur that."

I was obliged for this information, which was generous on his part, considering the circumstances, and I dived from the bow, as far out as I could jump. Down I went, but I didn't reach the bottom, at all. My legs grazed against some branches and things, but the tide had me back to the boat in no time, and I came up near the stern, which I seized, and got on board.

Both the colored boys were grinning, and the captain said:

"Ye can't dive that-a-way, boss. You'll never git to the bottom, at all, that-a-way. You must go right down, ef you go at all."

I knew that, but I must admit I didn't care much to go all the way down when I made the first dive. Just as I jumped, I thought of the hard sharp things at the bottom, and I guess I was a little too careful not to dive into them.

But now I made a second dive, and I went down beautifully. I made a grab at the first thing my hand touched. It was a purple knob of coral. But it stuck tight to its mother-rock, and I was ready to go up before it was ready to come loose, and so I went up without it.

"'T aint easy to git them things," said the captain, and the two boys said:

"No indeed, boss, ye cahn't git them things dat-a-way."

I didn't say anything, but in a few minutes I made another dive. I determined to look around a little, this time, and seize something that I could break off or pull up. I found that I couldn't stay under water, like the darkeys could. That required practice, and perhaps more fishy lungs.

Down I went, and I came right down on a small sea-fan, which I grabbed instantly. That ought to give way easily. But as I seized it, I brought down my right foot into the middle of a big round sponge. I started, as if I had had an electric shock. The thing seemed colder and wetter than the water; it was slimy and sticky and horrid. I did not see what it was, and it felt as if some great sucker-fish, with a cold woolly mouth, was trying to swallow my foot. I let go of everything, and came right up, and drew myself, puffing and blowing, on board the boat.

How Captain Chris laughed! He had been watching me through the water-glass, and saw what had scared me.

"Why, boss!" said he, "sponges don't eat people! That was nice and sof' to tread on. A sight better than cuttin' yer foot on a piece o' coral."

That was all very well, but I'm sure Captain Chris jumped the first time he ever put his bare foot into a sponge under water.

"I s'pose ye're goin' to gib it up now, boss," said the captain.

"No, I'm not," I answered. "I haven't brought up anything yet. I'm going down again."

"You'd better not," said Rectus. "Three times is all that anybody ever tries to do anything. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. One, two, three. You're not expected to try four times. And, besides, you're tired."

"I'll be rested in a minute," said I, "and then I'll try once more. I'm all right. You needn't worry."

But Rectus did worry. I must have looked frightened when I came up, and I believe he had caught the scare. Boys will do that. The captain tried to keep me from going in again, b

ut I knew it was all nonsense to be frightened. I was going to bring up something from the bottom, if it was only a pebble.

So, after resting a little while, and getting my breath again, down I went. I was in for anything now, and the moment I reached the bottom, I swept my arm around and seized the first thing I touched. It was a pretty big thing, for it was a sea-feather over five feet high,-a regular tree. I gave a jerk at it, but it held fast. I wished, most earnestly, that I had taken hold of something smaller, but I didn't like to let go. I might get nothing else. I gave another jerk, but it was of no use. I felt that I couldn't hold my breath much longer, and must go up. I clutched the stem of the thing with both hands; I braced my feet against the bottom; I gave a tremendous tug and push, and up I came to the top, sea-feather and all!

With both my hands full I couldn't do much swimming, and the tide carried me astern of the boat before I knew it.

Rectus was the first to shout to me.

"Drop it, and strike out!" he yelled; but I didn't drop it. I took it in one hand and swam with the other. But the tide was strong, and I didn't make any headway. Indeed, I floated further away from the boat.

Directly, I heard a splash, and in a moment afterward, it seemed, the two darkey divers were swimming up to me.

"Drop dat," said one of them, "an' we'll take ye in."

"No, I wont," I spluttered, still striking out with my legs and one arm. "Take hold of this, and we can all go in together."

I thought that if one of them would help me with the sea-feather, which seemed awfully heavy, two of us could certainly swim to the boat with four legs and two arms between us.

But neither of them would do it. They wanted me to drop my prize, and then they'd take hold of me and take me in. We were disputing and puffing, and floating further and further away, when up came Captain Chris, swimming like a shark. He had jerked off his clothes and jumped in, when he saw what was going on. He just put one hand under my right arm, in which I held the sea-feather, and then we struck out together for the boat. It was like getting a tow from a tug-boat. We were alongside in no time. Captain Chris was the strongest and best swimmer I ever saw.


Rectus was leaning over, ready to help, and he caught me by the arm as I reached up for the side of the boat.

"No," said I, "take this," and he seized the sea-feather and pulled it in. Then the captain gave me a hoist, and I clambered on board.

The captain had some towels under the little forward deck, and I gave myself a good rub down and dressed. Then I went to look at my prize. No wonder it was heavy. It had a young rock, a foot long, fast to its root.

"You sp'iled one o' de puttiest things in that garden down there," said the captain. "I allus anchored near that tall feather, and all de vis'tors used to talk about it. I didn't think you'd bring it up when I seed you grab it. But you must 'a' give a powerful heave to come up with all that stone."

"I don't think you ought to have tried to do that," said Rectus, who looked as if he hadn't enjoyed himself. "I didn't know you were so obstinate."

"Well," said I, "the truth of the matter is that I am a fool, sometimes, and I might as well admit it. But now let's see what we've got on this stone."

There was a lot of curious things on the piece of rock which had come up with the sea-feather. There were small shells, of different shapes and colors, with the living creatures inside of them, and there were mosses, and sea-weed, and little sponges, and small sea-plants, tipped with red and yellow, and more things of the kind than I can remember. It was the handsomest and most interesting piece of coral-rock that I had seen yet.

As for the big purple sea-feather, it was a whopper, but too big for me to do anything with it. When we got home, Rectus showed it around to the Chippertons, and some of the people at the hotel, and told them that I dived down and brought it up, myself, but I couldn't take it away with me, for it was much too long to go in my trunk. So I gave it next day to Captain Chris, to sell, if he chose, but I believe he took it back and planted it again in the submarine garden, so that his passengers could see how tall a sea-feather could grow, when it tried. I chipped off a piece of the rock, however, to carry home as a memento. I was told that the things growing on it-I picked off all the shells-would make the clothes in my trunk smell badly, but I thought I'd risk it.

"After all," said Rectus, that night, "what was the good of it? That little piece of stone don't amount to anything, and you might have been drowned."

"I don't think I could have been drowned," said I, "for I should have dropped the old thing, and floated, if I had felt myself giving out. But the good of it was this: It showed me what a disagreeable sort of place a sea-garden is, when you go down into it to pick things."

"Which you wont do again, in a hurry, I reckon," said Rectus.

"You're right there, my boy," I answered.

The next day, the Chippertons and ourselves took a two-horse barouche, and rode to the "caves," some six or seven miles from the town. We had a long walk through the pineapple fields before we came to the biggest cave, and found it wasn't very much of a cave, after all, though there was a sort of a room, on one side, which looked like a church, with altar, pillars and arches. There was a little hole, on one side of this room, about three feet wide, which led, our negro guide said, to a great cave, which ran along about a mile, until it reached the sea. There was no knowing what skeletons, and treasures, and old half-decayed boxes of coins, hidden by pirates, and swords with jewels in the handles, and loose jewels, and silver plate, and other things we might have found in that cave, if we had only had a lantern or some candles to light us while we were wandering about in it. But we had no candles or lantern, and so did not become a pirate's heirs. It was Corny who was most anxious to go in. She had read about Blackbeard, and the other pirates who used to live on this island, and she felt sure that some of their treasures were to be found in that cave. If she had thought of it, she would have brought a candle.

The only treasures we got were some long things, like thin ropes, which hung from the roof to the floor of the cave we were in. This cave wasn't dark, because nearly all of one side of it was open. These ropes were roots or young trunks from banyan-trees, growing on the ground above, and which came through the cracks in the rocks, and stretched themselves down so as to root in the floor of the cave, and make a lot of underground trunks for the tree above. The banyan-tree is the most enterprising trunk-maker I ever heard of.

We pulled down a lot of these banyan ropes, some of them more than twenty feet long, to take away as curiosities. Corny thought it would be splendid to have a jumping-rope made of a banyan root, or rather trunklet. The banyans here are called wild fig-trees, which they really are, wherever they grow. There is a big one, not far from the town, which stands by itself, and has a lot of trunks coming down from the branches. It would take the conceit out of a hurricane, I think, if it tried to blow down a banyan-tree.

The next day was Sunday, and our party went to a negro church to hear a preacher who was quite celebrated as a colored orator. He preached a good sensible sermon, although he didn't meddle much with grammar. The people were poorly dressed, and some of the deacons were barefooted, but they were all very clean and neat, and they appeared to be just as religious as if they had all ridden in carriages to some Fifth Avenue church in New York.

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