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   Chapter 11 THE GRUESOME SKELETON

The Wonder Island Boys: Exploring the Island By Roger Thompson Finlay Characters: 18519

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The merry party lingered long over the meal. Roast prairie chicken was the chief dish. The Professor had found lentils, and this, with potatoes, or cassava, formed the principal dish, to say nothing of the sago pudding and the residue of the little cakes which just suited Baby's palate.

For drink there was plenty of cold water, fresh and sparkling, obtained from a natural spring not far away. The Cataract River furnished a good water, in the sense that it was clear, but it had an unpleasant taste at times, so for all cooking purposes the water used had to be carried from the spring, which was sometimes burdensome.

"I wish we could purify the Cataract water, as it would be a great convenience," was George's remark, when they were considering their work and duties.

"We can easily do that by using the chips of the common oak tree or the charcoal can be used, as I have before stated."

"It is a curious thing that oak chips will purify it. Does it act in purifying the same way as charcoal?"

"We used oak bark for the purpose of tanning leather because of the tannic acid it contained. The chips of the wood contain tannic acid as well, and it does the same thing to the impurities in water that boiling does-namely, it coagulates it. In Egypt, the muddy waters of the Nile are clarified and purified by using bitter almonds. In India, they use a nut called the Strychnos for this, purpose."

"It seems people everywhere had some idea of purifying drinking water."

"Yes, and through all ages; even the Bible speaks of it."

"Where?"

"The Book of Exodus. I think the fifteenth chapter, says:

"'So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree, which, when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet.'

"Our Cataract water, flowing, as it does, largely through forests and past vegetable banks, takes up a large quantity of albuminous matter, which is so great in quantity that the atmosphere, or the oxygen in the air, cannot purify it by the time it reaches us, so that if any astringent matter like oak, or birch, or beech, or even alum, is put in the water it will cause the albumen to precipitate. In the district of La Gironde, France, the waters of the Landes are naturally very impure from these causes, but since the cutting and floating down of the immense oak forests, the water has been made sweet and wholesome."

"Isn't all this curious and wonderful to think about?"

The work of preparing and putting into practical form the primary electric battery was going forward steadily, and at the Professor's suggestion a number of cells were made, which it might be well to describe briefly.

As the clay was the only available material, each cell had to be made rather heavy and clumsy in appearance, and was baked when completed. Each was ten inches deep and three by six and a half inches within. The electrodes, made of zinc, were each one-half inch thick, six inches wide, and nine inches long. The copper electrodes were the same dimensions, except that they were a quarter inch thick. These were stood in the cell, a short distance apart, and held in position by means of notched wooden blocks.

When all this was completed the cells were filled with sulphuric acid that had been made from the copper ore. It was, of course, much diluted with water, so as not to make it too strong.

"What is the object in making so many cells?"

"So as to get the voltage."

"Does the voltage depend on the number of the cells?"

"Each cell gives practically two volts, so that if we have 20 cells there will be 40 volts; 30 cells, 60 volts, and so on."

"But where do the amperes come in?"

"That depends on the size of the plates forming the battery. Surface is required for amperage, and quantity of plates for voltage."

"Suppose I had plates the size of this table, wouldn't I get more electricity than if I had the plates cut up into smaller pieces?"

"Electricity means both volts and amperes. There is no such thing as electricity with one of those qualities alone. A current may have 2 amperes and 40 volts, or 40 amperes and 2 volts. Multiplying the volts by the amperes gives what is called watts, and there would be 80 watts in each case."

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Fig. 27. Complete Battery with connections.

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The determination of the boys to build a new and better boat than the old one was now manifesting itself in plans, which were considered. George was in favor of building a large vessel, by means of which they could sail anywhere they wanted to; but Harry and the Professor opposed that plan, for several reasons. Harry, particularly, objected.

"I am just as anxious as George to build a large boat, but the difficulty is that to do so would take a long time, longer that we ought to take at this time. Furthermore, a large vessel would be hard to manage with our small crew, as we would have to make it a sailing vessel."

"Then why not make it a steam vessel?"

"That would make the job still harder and longer."

"I think Harry is quite right. A boat but little, if any, larger than the one we built, would be the most serviceable. If the one we made had been smaller, or lighter, we should have been able to carry it around the falls. Instead of that we had to leave it there."

Harry insisted in his views. "What we can do with our present supplies is to build a boat, even larger than our former one, and make it still lighter."

"Yes," said the Professor; "we now have lumber which is dried, and with the improvement in the tools we can turn out a boat which will be a credit to any community."

That question settled, the plan of the boat was drawn up. It was decided to build the boat on the general plan of the former one, as to size, namely, from sixteen to eighteen feet in length, and at least five feet wide, with a flat bottom, the prow to be contracted, and the bottom of the forward end to be bent upwardly, as much as their material would permit of bending.

For this purpose Harry stated that the body of the boat would be made of double thickness of material, as their sawing machinery had been so much improved that they could cut it into five-eighth inch lumber, and in that way the joints could be lapped, and the sides and bottom more easily bent into the required curves to make a graceful-looking boat.

The sawmill was at once put into good working condition, and within a week the principal parts of the boat were ready to be assembled.

"In your next weekly jaunt, I suggest that you might get our old life-boat. We should not neglect our friend."

The Professor's suggestion met with a hearty response, and on the following day the boys were off early to bring the boat to the Cataract.

First going to Observation Hill, which was the custom of one to do each day, they crawled up the rocky sides, and surveyed the horizon. From that position they could see across the neck of land, east of the Cataract, to the point southeast; to the southwest was the mountain range; to the west the forests, and to the northwest the irregular cliff line, which ended with another projecting point several miles beyond. Along the sea line this was the limit of their knowledge.

"While we are here let us examine the sides of Observation point and try to find the old flagstaff. I still think it was blown away."

Harry's suggestion was acted upon, and they made the trip together over the rocky side toward the sea. Observation point was on the mainland, and formed the extreme northern limit. It was fully half a mile from the grim rock where they had been wrecked. Between the two points were detached rocks which sprang up out of the water, and in which the water was constantly swaying to and fro. When the sea was heavy these rock islands made navigation among them a dangerous occupation.

The tide was then coming in, and eddies and cross currents were rushing hither and thither, so that it was easy to see that to float the wrecked life-boat it must be taken out to sea around the rocks. They hesitated to do this under the circumstances.

All sides of the hill were now examined with care. As they were about to leave the hill and go to the point where the life-boat lay, some wreckage was discovered below them, caught within the clefts of the rock. Here, packed in with seaweed and brush, was an object which interested them.

"What is this, George? It looks like the fragment of a boat; and here is another piece. Let us dig it out."

Both were excited beyond measure at this discovery. Not only one, but a number of pieces were finally removed. It was, beyond question, portions of a boat.

"Harry, this is part of our boat. See this piece of rope; and here is part of an oar. Wait till I get to the bottom of this mass."

"Run for the Professor, and I will remove the pieces while you are away," was George's answer.

Harry

was off at the instant, and in less than half an hour, reappeared with the Professor, who examined the recovered portions of the wreck.

"It is certainly parts of a boat; but I am sure, from the present examination, that it cannot be our boat."

The boys were surprised at the information.

"My reasons for saying so," continued the Professor, "is, that the pieces here are not part of a life-boat, such as our craft was, although it was a part of a ship's boat. Where is the stern portion of our boat that you found? Let us get that, and we will be in a better condition to judge."

"We landed it beyond the point where Harry first reached the shore the day we were wrecked."

"Let us get it at once."

In less than a half hour the broken portion of the boat was landed at the foot of the cliff in front of Observation Hill.

Harry now had no doubt that the Professor's observation was correct. "See, this has no double hull, which the life-boat has, and no part of these pieces can be made to fit. Look at this stern. All of the stern post is still on the boat below."

It was, undoubtedly, another boat; but there was no name or number on any of the pieces by means of which it could be identified.

"I believe it was a part of the Investigator's equipment," was the Professor's final conclusion. "Have you recovered all the parts from the debris?"

"I don't think we can find anything else. While Harry was away I hunted all along the point in the hope that some more pieces might have been found."

The most minute examination was made for some mark of identification, but nothing was found which would give the least clue.

"Let us gather all these pieces and keep them for further observation, particularly for the reason that other parts may be found eventually, and identification will then be easier."

"Shouldn't we take the remnant of our life-boat to the Cataract?" asked George.

"By all means. It has just occurred to me that we might use that as part of the new boat we are building."

That was an idea which had not occurred to either of the boys. Considering that the portion recovered was the stern, and by far the largest part of the vessel, and that it had the double hull construction, made the suggestion a most acceptable one.

After all parts of the wreckage had been assembled, the Professor, accompanied by the boys, made another tour, much to the left, and on returning to the boat, the Professor's eye caught a white object lying partially hidden behind a rock.

"What is that by the rock to the right?" Without waiting for a further suggestion from the Professor, Harry made his way up, and when the object was reached, threw up his hands, without uttering a word. George had followed, and before the Professor had time to reach the spot, he cried: "A skull!"

"There is more than that," said the Professor. "Remove the debris."

The boys saw portions of the skeleton plainly now. It was such a shock to them that they could scarcely speak.

"Probably that solves the mystery of the wreckage we found."

"Undoubtedly," was the Professor's only comment.

The boys were now absolutely unnerved, but the Professor, without noticing their agitated state, carefully removed the seaweed and other accumulation, and found the skeleton largely disjointed, excepting the torso, or upper portion of the frame.

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Fig. 28. Human Skull

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When the entire skeleton had been taken out and arranged, the Professor said: "It seems we are to have one mystery after the other."

"How long do you suppose this body has been here?"

"Probably ten months or more."

The boys looked at each other. "Ten months? That is as long as we have been here."

"That is one of the reasons why I said ten months."

The boys knew what that meant. This was, very likely, one of the Investigator's boats, and the skeleton the remains of one of their shipmates.

"Probably it was one of the boys," was George's inquiry.

"I do not think so," said the Professor. "The skeleton shows that of an individual past middle age."

"Why do you think so?"

"Principally, from my examination, so far, on account of the condition of the skull. You see, these saw teeth lines, which cross the top portion. These are called the sutures, and in infancy they are not joined. Before the third period of life these joints grow together, so as to form an undivided skull. But wait; here is another indication. The teeth seem to be greatly worn, showing that the person must have been close to the sixth period of life."

This discovery was the cause of very conflicting emotions in the boys. They reverently gathered the bones, and at Harry's suggestion the boys went to the Cataract for the team. The Professor volunteered to remain.

We may well imagine the feelings of the boys as they went on their mission. Here was mute evidence that others of the ill-fated ship had met disaster. They had often speculated on the fate of their companions. How many had been left to tell the tale!

The yaks were yoked, and taking with them a rude box, which had been put together, as the Professor suggested, they shortly returned.

"Have you found anything new?" was George's first question.

"The poor fellow was undoubtedly killed when he landed, and I think he was a sailor."

"Have you found anything which makes you think so?"

"Nothing but what you see before you. That break in the skull was, in my opinion, made by contact with a rock; furthermore, several of the bones were broken, as you see, at the time he met with his calamity; and one of the legs shows where it was broken before his death, and had mended."

It was a remarkable funeral cortege which wended its way slowly back over the hills to their home. They felt it was paying a tribute to a friend and companion. All doubts on their part had been dispelled. He had been one of their companions on that terrible night when the explosion had sent their ship to the bottom, and had cast them adrift on a sea which welcomed them in raging fury.

"What shall we do with the skeleton?"

The Professor was silent a long time before he answered. "I do not know what to advise. Perhaps, in the future fate may be kind enough to restore us to our homes and friends, and if it should be that we are the only ones so rescued, the skeleton would be a positive means of enabling us to ascertain whether or not he was one of our companions, and also to advise his friends."

A stone sarcophagus was built, in which the remains were deposited after a funeral service at which the Professor presided.

This event had a most depressing influence on the boys, as well it might, during the entire day, and it was the principal topic of their conversation while together. During the two days following only brief references were made to the Professor, but the second evening George's inquisitive nature could not hold in any longer.

"When we were on the rocks examining the skeleton, you referred to the fourth and the sixth ages of man."

"Yes; in point of growth man has seven ages. The first is infancy, which ends at the second year; second, the age which ends at the seventh year; third, at the end of fourteen years; fourth, at the end of twenty-two years; fifth, at the end of forty-seven years; sixth, at the end of sixty-five years; and seventh, which ends at death. These divisions vary somewhat between males and females, and I have given you merely the average between the two sexes."

"I can't help feeling sad, when I think of the things that have happened, and at the thought that all our friends may have been lost."

"Sadness is a natural feeling under the circumstances, but after all, why should it be so? Why should the sight of the skeleton bring sorrow to you? Probably the Egyptians had the right idea when they always had a skeleton at the feast."

"Skeleton at the feast? What was that for?"

"As a reminder of death?"

"There is one thing I could never make myself understand. Why is death necessary? Why couldn't man have been made so he could live always?" was Harry's query.

"You have asked a very broad question. It is one which has a great many answers. At this time I shall give only one of the reasons. The earth would not be big enough to hold the people. I do not know the population of the globe to-day. It is about 1,000,000,000; and if we take the age of the earth at only 5,000 years, we should have in that time 125 generations, counting each generation as 40 years. Do you know what that would mean in population at this time? You could not comprehend the figures. Let us take the United States alone, as an example. Assuming that the population is 90,000,000 at the present time, and that the natural rate of increase is only double in each forty years. This is how it figures out: In forty years we would have 270,000,000; in eighty years, 810,000,000; in one hundred and twenty years, 2,430,000,000; and in one hundred and sixty years, 7,290,000,000. At that rate New York City would have 480,000,000 of people and its boundaries would take in the whole of the State of New Jersey and nearly half of the entire State of New York, as thickly settled as that city now is."

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