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The Wonder Island Boys: Exploring the Island By Roger Thompson Finlay Characters: 13909

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The usual rate of travel did not average two and a half miles an hour, and while the first and second days were vigorous ones, they were not so much disposed to hurry up now, and were taking the trip more leisurely, thus giving more time to the examination of trees and plants and flowers, and to investigating the geological formation of the country. The new river was not, in all probability, more than seventy miles from the Cataract home.

Beyond, fully a day's march, was the mountain chain-not a high range, but an elevation which showed a broken skyline. The mountains below the South River did not now seem so formidable; and directly to the south they could see no ranges or hill elevations. To the north the sea might be ten or fifty miles away. The river flowed past them at the rate of about two miles an hour.

That evening, while sitting on the bank, Harry had an idea. "We made a mistake in calling our home river the West River. Let us call this the West, and rename our stream the Cataract River."

"Very well; as George does not object, the Geographical Society will please take notice, and make the change."

George was of the impression that to settle the question of the direction they should take in their future explorations, was the most important thing to determine.

An entire day was spent in and about the vicinity of the river. New plants and shrubbery of various kinds were constantly sought for and examined-they fished and hunted; and on the morning of the third day it was decided to move on.

"We have not yet sighted any original inhabitants, and have found no signs of people living here; nevertheless, we had traces of a fire thirty or forty miles east of here. That is what puzzles me."

"I am in favor of following this stream to the north," was Harry's conclusion, "unless we make a raft and cross the river."

Harry's view finally prevailed, and at noon of that day they camped at the mouth of a little stream which flowed into the West River. Beyond was a forest, and on the opposite side of the West River the wood had all along been dense. At that point the trees did not come down to the stream, and there was considerable lowland between the river and the forest.

The Professor and George wandered up the banks of the little stream on a prospecting tour, as had been their constant practice. When they returned Harry knew something unusual had occurred from the excited appearance of George.

"What is it? Any animals?"

"No; only this." And George held up an arrow made of flint. The wooden portion of the arrow was really of good workmanship, and of hard, stiff wood.

"Where did you find this?"

"Not more than five hundred feet from here."

Harry looked at the Professor for an explanation, but he was silent. By common consent they now agreed upon making a more extended investigation of the vicinity for other traces, if possible. Within an hour Harry stumbled across the skull of an animal. This was not an unusual sight, as bones had been found at various places in their travels, but here was a specimen, lying on a rocky slope, with but little vegetation about it.

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Fig. 2 Types of Arrow-Heads.

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"I should like to know what animal this belonged to?"

The Professor examined the bones critically, without venturing an opinion. "What is this?" were his first words. Directly behind the ear cavity was a split or broken cleavage in which they found a round piece of dark wood.

"Get the bolo, George; we may find something interesting here." With a few strokes the skull was opened, and embedded within the brain receptacle was an arrow.

"This animal was, as you see, killed by the inhabitants of the island. I infer that there are several tribes living here."

The boys looked at each other in astonishment.

"Why do you think so?"

"This arrow is different in shape and in structure from the sample we found this morning."

The boys now noticed the difference.

"Do different tribes make their implements differently?"

"There is just as much difference among savages in the way they make their weapons and different implements, as among civilized people. Our customs differ; our manufactured articles are not the same; and sometimes the manner of using the tools is unlike; and the divergence is frequently so wide that it has been difficult in many cases to trace the causes and explain the reasons. Such an instance may be found in the Chinese way of holding a saw, with the teeth projecting from the sawyer. For years all tools and machinery made in England could be instantly recognized by those versed in manufacturing, on account of the bulk, as their tools were uniformly made larger and heavy, as compared with the French and American manufacture."

This conclusion verified the Professor's observation, and you may be sure that the new discovery gave an air of gravity to the camp which it did not have before.

"I also wanted to say to-day," was the Professor's last remark that night, "I am satisfied that there is no intimate intercourse between the different tribes on the island." The boys looked at each other without questioning, as usual; but the next morning, as soon as George awoke, his first observation was: "I can't understand what makes you think that the natives of the different tribes do not associate with each other."

"Simply for the reason that the styles of the arrows differ so greatly. With them, as with civilized people, the intermingling of the races should tend to make their tools and implements alike."

The next night, after the evening meal, they sat in the wagon until late, discussing their future course. It was now fully nine months since they left home. The thought that their parents and friends would consider them lost was the hardest thing to bear. Did the boys ever get homesick? I need not suggest such an idea to make it more real than it was to them. With beautiful home surroundings, loving parents and brothers and sisters, absence, uncertainty; the fear that they would never again be able to return; danger all about them; the belief that perils still awaited them, which fears were now, in all probability, to be realized, all these things did not tend to produce a pleasant perspective to the mind.

But the Professor was a philosopher. He knew that the human mind craved activity. If it could not be exercised in a useful direction it would invariably spend its energies in dangerous channels. He knew this to be particularly true of young people.

Boys are naturally inquisitive. Their minds are active, like their bodies. They must have exercise; why not direct it into paths of usefulness, where their accomplishments could be seen and understood by the boys themselves.

That thought is the parent of the manual training system, where the education imparted comes through the joint exercise of brain and muscle. Boys resent all work which comes to

them under the guise of play; and all play which is labeled "work." But when there is a need for a thing, and the inquisitive nature of the boy, or his mental side, starts an inquiry, the manual, or the muscular part of him, is stimulated to the production of the article needed to fill that want.

The Professor did not force any information upon the boys, as will be noticed. It was his constant aim to let inquiry and performance come from them.

Could anything have been more stimulating or encouraging than the building of the water wheel, the sawmill, or the wagon? See what enjoyment and profit they derived from it. Thus far they had not given their time and the great enthusiasm to their various enterprises because of the money returns. Do you think it would have made their labors lighter, or the knowledge of their success any sweeter if they had been paid for their work?

The "Baby" went to sleep early, as was his custom now, and the boys and the Professor sat up later that night than usual, talking over their condition, and the situation as it appeared to them. The day had been exceedingly warm, following the rains.

Harry, who was seated facing the river, suddenly sprang up and excitedly grasped the Professor's arm, as he pointed across the river: "Look at that light!"

There, plainly in the distance, was a light, not stationary, but flickering, and, apparently, moving slightly to and fro.

"It seems as though it is at the edge of the woods," remarked George. The distance was fully a half mile away.

"It can't be possible that people are over there," said Harry, not so much in a tone of inquiry as of surprise. "How far do you think it is from here?"

"Probably one-half mile, or more. We might be able to learn something if we should fire a gun," was the Professor's reply.

The boys were naturally astonished at the boldness of this remark. Other lights now appeared, some dim, others brighter. The firing of a gun seemed to them a most hazardous thing to do, but no doubt the Professor had a reason for making the suggestion.

It was quite a time before either of the boys responded to this proposal. In their minds it was a daring enterprise.

"If we should fire a gun the noise would likely startle them, and the first impulse of the savages would be to extinguish the lights."

George, who had the spirit of adventure more strikingly developed than Harry, was the first to concur.

"I am going to try it at any rate; we might just as well know what we have to face now, as later on."

"So you are really going to shoot?" said the Professor.

"If you so urge it, yes."

"Then let me suggest what to do. All savages have a keen sense of direction. It is one of their chief accomplishments. You and Harry go back, up the river, a quarter of a mile, or so, and take with you one of our coverings. Then shoot behind the blanket, so the flash will not be seen, and I will remain here and watch the effect."

There was no delay in their preparations. Within fifteen minutes the shot rang out, and almost immediately thereafter every light had disappeared. The boys were also keen enough to note the extinguished lights, and returned to the Professor in a hurry.

"The disappearance of the lights is not conclusive evidence that human beings were there. It might have been a mere coincidence."

"Coincidence! What do you mean by that?"

"Did it not occur to you that the lights might be natural phenomena?"

"Of what?"

"Of phosphorescence."

"Do you mean 'will-o'-the-wisp'?"

"It is sometimes called by that name. It is caused by decaying vegetable matter, and exhibits itself in the form of gases of phosphorus, which appears to burn, but does not, like the vapor which is produced by rubbing certain matches in the dark."

"But how do you account for the disappearance after we shot?"

"I thought they might have disappeared naturally, after you fired, and, therefore, said it might have been a mere coincidence."

This explanation was not a satisfying one for the boys, and the Professor did not place much faith in it, for the following reasons:

"I believe it is our duty now to keep watches during the night, which we can do by turns, so that the sentinel will quietly awaken the next one in his turn, or both in the event of any unusual happening; and furthermore, we should make an early start in the morning."

George was the first watch, and, by agreement, Harry was to be the next, in two hours, for the second period. Before that time passed Baby was very restless, and George tried to soothe him; but before long he began crying. A lusty orang, however small, in a still night, makes an awfully loud noise. The boys never heard anything as loud and as frightful as that cry appeared to them.

All were awake, of course, but the Baby refused to be quieted for fully a quarter of an hour.

"Don't you think Baby's cries will direct the savages to us?"

"It is not at all likely. The savages have no doubt heard the cries many times. It is your imagination which is playing you tricks. Do you suppose the savages know we are here and have a captive orang?"

During the rest of the night they took sleep in snatches, and morning was long in coming. Harry had busied himself in getting a hasty breakfast while the others slept, and Baby was up leaping around nervously, and springing from branch to branch on the adjacent trees.

Having finished breakfast, the yaks were yoked, and before the sun was visible they were on their way to the north, as fast as the yaks could travel.

The whole camp partook of watchfulness now. Every hour and every mile they scanned the landscape, and, for further precaution, kept away from close proximity to the river bed. That was not a safe route, as enemies on the other side of the river would have an unobstructed view, whereas by traveling inland, but within sight of the river, they could still view the banks of the stream.

"The scout who leads the way must go a certain distance, then make observations in all quarters. He must take particular note of objects which afford places of concealment, and the eye must be alert enough to observe every undue movement in limb or leaf. Sound is one of the things he must cultivate. A noise of any kind should be analyzed. A scout once told me that on one occasion during the war, his life was saved because he saw one limb of a tree move more than an adjoining one. At another time, in trailing through a forest, he saw a leaf on the ground, differing in color from those around it. In walking along he had noticed that some of the leaves he overturned had the same color, and inferred that as no wind had been blowing, and all the trees were bare, something must have turned the leaf, and subsequent events confirmed his reasonings."

The boys quickly learned their lessons. Each knew that every step forward meant an entrance to an unknown world.

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