Chapter 14 – The Best To Do

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So then, after a voyage long delayed by calms, then favored by winds
from the northwest and from the southwest – a voyage which had not
lasted less than seventy-four days – the "Pilgrim" had just run aground!

However, Mrs. Weldon. and her companions thanked Providence, because
they were in safety. In fact, it was on a continent, and not on one of
the fatal isles of Polynesia, that the tempest had thrown them. Their
return to their country, from any point of South America on which they
should land, ought not, it seemed, to present serious difficulties.

As to the "Pilgrim," she was lost. She was only a carcass without
value, of which the surf was going to disperse the débris in a few
hours. It would be impossible to save anything. But if Dick Sand had
not that joy of bringing back a vessel intact to his ship-owner, at
least, thanks to him, those who sailed in her were safe and sound on
some hospitable coast, and among them, the wife and child of James W.

As to the question of knowing on what part of the American coast the
schooner had been wrecked, they might dispute it for a long time. Was
it, as Dick Sand must suppose, on the shore of Peru? Perhaps, for he
knew, even by the bearings of the Isle of Paques, that the "Pilgrim"
had been thrown to the northeast under the action of the winds; and
also, without doubt, under the influence of the currents of the
equatorial zone. From the forty-third degree of latitude, it had,
indeed, been possible to drift to the fifteenth.

It was then important to determine, as soon as possible, the precise
point of the coast where the schooner had just been lost. Granted that
this coast was that of Peru, ports, towns and villages were not
lacking, and consequently it would be easy to gain some inhabited
place. As to this part of the coast, it seemed deserted.

It was a narrow beach, strewed with black rocks, shut off by a cliff of
medium height, very irregularly cut up by large funnels due to the
rupture of the rock. Here and there a few gentle declivities gave
access to its crest.

In the north, at a quarter of a mile from the stranding place, was the
mouth of a little river, which could not have been perceived from the
offing. On its banks hung numerous rhizomas, sorts of mangroves,
essentially distinct from their congeners of India.

The crest of the cliff – that was soon discovered – was overhung by a
thick forest, whose verdant masses undulated before the eyes, and
extended as far as the mountains in the background. There, if Cousin
Benedict had been a botanist, how many trees, new to him, would not
have failed to provoke his admiration.

There were high baobabs – to which, however, an extraordinary longevity
has been falsely attributed – the bark of which resembles Egyptian
syenite, Bourbon palms, white pines, tamarind-trees, pepper-plants of a
peculiar species, and a hundred other plants that an American is not
accustomed to see in the northern region of the New Continent.

But, a circumstance rather curious, among those forest productions one
would not meet a single specimen of that numerous family of palm-trees
which counts more than a thousand species, spread in profusion over
almost the whole surface of the globe.

Above the sea-shore a great number of very noisy birds were flying,
which belonged for the greater part to different varieties of swallows,
of black plumage, with a steel-blue shade, but of a light chestnut
color on the upper part of the head. Here and there also rose some
partridges, with necks entirely white, and of a gray color.

Mrs. Weldon and Dick Sand observed that these different birds did not
appear to be at all wild. They approached without fearing anything.
Then, had they not yet learned to fear the presence of man, and was
this coast so deserted that the detonation of a firearm had never been
heard there?

At the edge of the rocks were walking some pelicans of the species of
"pelican minor," occupied in filling with little fish the sack which
they carry between the branches of their lower jaw. Some gulls, coming
from the offing, commenced to fly about around the "Pilgrim."

Those birds were the only living creatures that seemed to frequent this
part of the coast, without counting, indeed, numbers of interesting
insects that Cousin Benedict would well know how to discover. But,
however little Jack would have it, one could not ask them the name of
the country; in order to learn it, it would be necessary to address
some native. There were none there, or at least, there was not one to
be seen. No habitation, hut, or cabin, neither in the north, beyond the
little river, nor in the south, nor finally on the upper part of the
cliff, in the midst of the trees of the thick forest. No smoke ascended
into the air, no indication, mark, or imprint indicated that this
portion of the continent was visited by human beings. Dick Sand
continued to be very much surprised.

"Where are we? Where can we be?" he asked himself. "What! nobody to
speak to?"

Nobody, in truth, and surely, if any native had approached, Dingo would
have scented him, and announced him by a bark. The dog went backward
and forward on the strand, his nose to the ground, his tail down,
growling secretly – certainly very singular behavior – but neither
betraying the approach of man nor of any animal whatsoever.

"Dick, look at Dingo!" said Mrs. Weldon.

"Yes, that is very strange," replied the novice. "It seems as if he
were trying to recover a scent."

"Very strange, indeed," murmured Mrs. Weldon; then, continuing, "what
is Negoro doing?" she asked.

"He is doing what Dingo is doing," replied Dick Sand. "He goes, he
comes! After all, he is free here. I have no longer the right to
control him. His service ended with the stranding of the Pilgrim.’"

In fact, Negoro surveyed the strand, turned back, and looked at the
shore and the cliff like a man trying to recall recollections and to
fix them. Did he, then, know this country? He would probably have
refused to reply to that question if it had been asked. The best thing
was still to have nothing to do with that very unsociable personage.
Dick Sand soon saw him walk from the side of the little river, and when
Negoro had disappeared on the other side of the cliff, he ceased to
think of him.

Dingo had indeed barked when the cook had arrived on the steep bank,
but became silent almost immediately.

It was necessary, now, to consider the most pressing wants. Now, the
most pressing was to find a refuge, a shelter of some kind, where they
could install themselves for the time, and partake of some nourishment.
Then they would take counsel, and they would decide what it would be
convenient to do.

As to food, they had not to trouble themselves. Without speaking of the
resources which the country must offer, the ship’s store-room had
emptied itself for the benefit of the survivors of the shipwreck. The
surf had thrown here and there among the rocks, then uncovered by the
ebb-tide, a great quantity of objects. Tom and his companions had
already picked up some barrels of biscuit, boxes of alimentary
preserves, cases of dried meat. The water not having yet damaged them,
food for the little troop was secured for more time, doubtless, than
they would require to reach a town or a village. In that respect there
was nothing to fear. These different waifs, already put in a safe
place, could no longer be taken back by a rising sea.

Neither was sweet water lacking. First of all Dick Sand had taken care
to send Hercules to the little river for a few pints. But it was a cask
which the vigorous negro brought back on his shoulder, after having
filled it with water fresh and pure, which the ebb of the tide left
perfectly drinkable.

As to a fire, if it were necessary to light one, dead wood was not
lacking in the neighborhood, and the roots of the old mangroves ought
to furnish all the fuel of which they would have need. Old Tom, an
ardent smoker, was provided with a certain quantity of German tinder,
well preserved in a box hermetically closed, and when they wanted it,
he would only have to strike the tinder-box with the flint of the

It remained, then, to discover the hole in which the little troop would
lie down, in case they must take one night’s rest before setting out.

And, indeed, it was little Jack who found the bedroom in question,
While trotting about at the foot of the cliff, he discovered, behind a
turn of the rock, one of those grottoes well polished, well hollowed
out, which the sea herself digs, when the waves, enlarged by the
tempest, beat the coast.

The young child was delighted. He called his mother with cries of joy,
and triumphantly showed her his discovery.

"Good, my Jack!" replied Mrs. Weldon. "If we were Robinson Crusoes,
destined to live a long time on this shore, we should not forget to
give your name to that grotto!"

The grotto was only from ten to twelve feet long, and as many wide;
but, in little Jack’s eyes, it was an enormous cavern. At all events,
it must suffice to contain the shipwrecked ones; and, as Mrs. Weldon
and Nan noted with satisfaction, it was very dry. The moon being then
in her first quarter, they need not fear that those neap-tides would
reach the foot of the cliff, and the grotto in consequence. Then,
nothing more was needed for a few hours’ rest.

Ten minutes after everybody was stretched out on a carpet of sea-weed.
Negoro himself thought he must rejoin the little troop and take his
part of the repast, which was going to be made in common. Doubtless he
had not judged it proper to venture alone under the thick forest,
through which the winding river made its way.

It was one o’clock in the afternoon. The preserved meat, the biscuit,
the sweet water, with the addition of a few drops of rum, of which Bat
had saved a quarter cask, made the requisites for this repast. But if
Negoro took part in it, he did not at all mingle in the conversation,
in which were discussed the measures demanded by the situation of the
shipwrecked. All the time, without appearing to do so, he listened to
it, and doubtless profited by what he heard.

During this time Dingo, who had not been forgotten, watched outside the
grotto. They could be at ease. No living being would show himself on
the strand without the faithful animal giving the alarm.

Mrs. Weldon, holding her little Jack, half lying and almost asleep on
her lap, began to speak.

"Dick, my friend," said she, "in the name of all, I thank you for the
devotion that you have shown us till now; but we do not consider you
free yet. You will be our guide on land, as you were our captain at
sea. We place every confidence in you. Speak, then! What must we do?"

Mrs. Weldon, old Nan, Tom and his companions, all had their eyes fixed
on the young novice. Negoro himself looked at him with a singular
persistence. Evidently, what Dick Sand was going to reply interested
him very particularly.

Dick Sand reflected for a few moments. Then:

"Mrs. Weldon," said he, "the important thing is to know, first, where
we are. I believe that our ship can only have made the land on that
portion of the American sea-coast which forms the Peruvian shore. The
winds and currents must have carried her as far as that latitude. But
are we here in some southern province of Peru, that is to say on the
least inhabited part which borders upon the pampas? Maybe so. I would
even willingly believe it, seeing this beach so desolate, and, it must
be, but little frequented. In that case, we might be very far from the
nearest town, which would be unfortunate."

"Well, what is to be done?" repeated Mrs. Weldon.

"My advice," replied Dick Sand, "would be not to leave this shelter
till we know our situation. To-morrow, after a night’s rest, two of us
could go to discover it. They would endeavor, without going too far, to
meet some natives, to inform themselves from them, and return to the
grotto. It is not possible that, in a radius of ten or twelve miles, we
find nobody."

"To separate!" said Mrs. Weldon.

"That seems necessary to me," replied the novice. "If no information
can be picked up, if, as is not impossible, the country is absolutely
desolate, well, we shall consider some other way of extricating

"And which of us shall go to explore?" asked Mrs. Weldon, after a
moment’s reflection.

"That is yet to be decided," replied Dick Sand. "At all events, I think
that you, Mrs. Weldon, Jack, Mr. Benedict, and Nan, ought not to quit
this grotto. Bat, Hercules, Acteon, and Austin should remain near you,
while Tom and I should go forward. Negoro, doubtless, will prefer to
remain here?" added Dick Sand, looking at the head-cook.

"Probably," replied Negoro, who was not a man to commit himself any
more than that.

"We should take Dingo with us," continued the novice. "He would be
useful to us during our exploration."

Dingo, hearing his name pronounced, reappeared at the entrance of the
grotto, and seemed to approve of Dick Sand’s projects by a little bark.

Since the novice had made this proposition, Mrs. Weldon remained
pensive. Her repugnance to the idea of a separation, even short, was
very serious. Might it not happen that the shipwreck of the "Pilgrim"
would soon be known to the Indian tribes who frequented the sea-shore,
either to the north or to the south, and in case some plunderers of the
wrecks thrown on the shore should present themselves, was it not better
for all to be united to repulse them?

That objection, made to the novice’s proposition, truly merited a

It fell, however, before Dick Sand’s arguments, who observed that the
Indians ought not to be confounded with the savages of Africa or
Polynesia, and any aggression on their part was probably not to be
feared. But to entangle themselves in this country without even knowing
to what province of South America it belonged, nor at what distance the
nearest town of that province was situated, was to expose themselves to
many fatigues. Doubtless separation might have its inconveniences, but
far less than marching blindly into the midst of a forest which
appeared to stretch as far as the base of the mountains.

"Besides," repeated Dick Sand, persistently, "I cannot admit that this
separation will be of long duration, and I even affirm that it will not
be so. After two days, at the most, if Tom and I have come across
neither habitation nor inhabitant, we shall return to the grotto. But
that is too improbable, and we shall not have advanced twenty miles
into the interior of the country before we shall evidently be satisfied
about its geographical situation. I may be mistaken in my calculation,
after all, because the means of fixing it astronomically have failed
me, and it is not impossible for us to be in a higher or lower

"Yes – you are certainly right, my child," replied Mrs. Weldon, in great

"And you, Mr. Benedict," asked Dick Sand, "what do you think of this

"I?" replied Cousin Benedict.

"Yes; what is your advice?"

"I have no advice," replied Cousin Benedict. "I find everything
proposed, good, and I shall do everything that you wish. Do you wish to
remain here one day or two? that suits me, and I shall employ my time
in studying this shore from a purely entomological point of view."

"Do, then, according to your wish," said Mrs. Weldon to Dick Sand. "We
shall remain here, and you shall depart with old Tom."

"That is agreed upon," said Cousin Benedict, in the most tranquil
manner in the world. "As for me, I am going to pay a visit to the
insects of the country."

"Do not go far away, Mr. Benedict," said the novice. "We urge you
strongly not to do it."

"Do not be uneasy, my boy."

"And above all, do not bring back too many musquitoes," added old Tom.

A few moments after, the entomologist, his precious tin box strapped to
his shoulders, left the grotto.

Almost at the same time Negoro abandoned it also. It appeared quite
natural to that man to, be always occupied with himself. But, while
Cousin Benedict clambered up the slopes of the cliff to go to explore
the border of the forest, he, turning round toward the river, went away
with slow steps and disappeared, a second time ascending the steep bank.

Jack slept all the time. Mrs. Weldon, leaving him on Nan’s knees, then
descended toward the strand. Dick Sand and his companions followed her.
The question was, to see if the state of the sea then would permit them
to go as far as the "Pilgrim’s" hull, where there were still many
objects which might be useful to the little troop.

The rocks on which the schooner had been wrecked were now dry. In the
midst of the débris of all kinds stood the ship’s carcass, which the
high sea had partly covered again. That astonished Dick Sand, for he
knew that the tides are only very moderate on the American sea-shore of
the Pacific. But, after all, this phenomenon might be explained by the
fury of the wind which beat the coast.

On seeing their ship again, Mrs. Weldon and her companions experienced
a painful impression. It was there that they had lived for long days,
there that they had suffered. The aspect of that poor ship, half
broken, having neither mast nor sails, lying on her side like a being
deprived of life, sadly grieved their hearts. But they must visit this
hull, before the sea should come to finish demolishing it.

Dick Sand and the blacks could easily make their way into the interior,
after having hoisted themselves on deck by means of the ropes which
hung over the "Pilgrim’s" side. While Tom, Hercules, Bat, and Austin
employed themselves in taking from the storeroom all that might be
useful, as much eatables as liquids, the novice made his way into the
arsenal. Thanks to God, the water had not invaded this part of the
ship, whose rear had remained out of the water after the stranding.

There Dick Sand found four guns in good condition, excellent Remingtons
from Purdy & Co.’s factory, as well as a hundred cartridges, carefully
shut up in their cartridge-boxes. There was material to arm his little
band, and put it in a state of defense, if, contrary to all
expectation, the Indians attacked him on the way.

The novice did not neglect to take a pocket-lantern; but the ship’s
charts, laid in a forward quarter and damaged by the water, were beyond

There were also in the "Pilgrim’s" arsenal some of those solid
cutlasses which serve to cut up whales. Dick Sand chose six, destined
to complete the arming of his companions, and he did not forget to
bring an inoffensive child’s gun, which belonged to little Jack.

As to the other objects still held by the ship, they had either been
dispersed, or they could no longer be used. Besides, it was useless to
overburden themselves for the few days the journey would last. In food,
in arms, in munitions, they were more than provided for. Meanwhile,
Dick Sand, by Mrs. Weldon’s advice, did not neglect to take all the
money which he found on board – about five hundred dollars.

That was a small sum, indeed! Mrs. Weldon had carried a larger amount
herself and she did not find it again.

Who, then, except Negoro, had been able to visit the ship before them
and to lay hands on Captain Hull’s and Mrs. Weldon’s reserve? No one
but he, surely, could be suspected. However, Dick Sand hesitated a
moment. All that he knew and all that he saw of him was that everything
was to be feared from that concentrated nature, from whom the
misfortunes of others could snatch a smile. Yes, Negoro was an evil
being, but must they conclude from that that he was a criminal? It was
painful to Dick Sand’s character to go as far as that. And, meanwhile,
could suspicion rest on any other? No, those honest negroes had not
left the grotto for an instant, while Negoro had wandered over the
beach. He alone must be guilty. Dick Sand then resolved to question
Negoro, and, if necessary, have him searched when he returned. He
wished to know decidedly what to believe.

The sun was then going down to the horizon. At that date he had not yet
crossed the equator to carry heat and light into the northern
hemisphere, but he was approaching it. He fell, then, almost
perpendicularly to that circular line where the sea and the sky meet.
Twilight was short, darkness fell promptly – which confirmed the novice
in the thought that he had landed on a point of the coast situated
between the tropic of Capricorn and the equator.

Mrs. Weldon, Dick Sand, and the blacks then returned to the grotto,
where they must take some hours’ rest.

"The night will still be stormy," observed Tom, pointing to the horizon
laden with heavy clouds.

"Yes," replied Dick Sand, "there is a strong breeze blowing up. But
what matter, at present? Our poor ship is lost, and the tempest can no
longer reach us?"

"God’s will be done!" said Mrs. Weldon.

It was agreed that during that night, which would be very dark, each of
the blacks would watch turn about at the entrance to the grotto. They
could, besides, count upon Dingo to keep a careful watch.

They then perceived that Cousin Benedict had not returned.

Hercules called him with all the strength of his powerful lungs, and
almost immediately they saw the entomologist coming down the slopes of
the cliff, at the risk of breaking his neck.

Cousin Benedict was literally furious. He had not found a single new
insect in the forest – no, not one – which was fit to figure in his
collection. Scorpions, scolopendras, and other myriapodes, as many as
he could wish, and even more, were discovered. And we know that Cousin
Benedict did not interest himself in myriapodes.

"It was not worth the trouble," added he, "to travel five or six
thousand miles, to have braved the tempest, to be wrecked on the coast,
and not meet one of those American hexapodes, which do honor to an
entomological museum! No; the game was not worth the candle!"

As a conclusion, Cousin Benedict asked to go away. He did not wish to
remain another hour on that detested shore.

Mrs. Weldon calmed her large child. They made him hope that he would be
more fortunate the next day, and all went to lie down in the grotto, to
sleep there till sunrise, when Tom observed that Negoro had not yet
returned, though night had arrived.

"Where can he be?" asked Mrs. Weldon.

"What matter!" said Bat.

"On the contrary, it does matter," replied Mrs. Weldon. "I should
prefer having that man still near us."

"Doubtless, Mrs. Weldon," replied Dick Sand; "but if he has forsaken
our company voluntarily, I do not see how we could oblige him to rejoin
us. Who knows but he has his reasons for avoiding us forever?"

And taking Mrs. Weldon aside, Dick Sand confided to her his suspicions.
He was not astonished to find that she had them also. Only they
differed on one point.

"If Negoro reappears," said Mrs. Weldon, "he will have put the product
of his theft in a safe place. Take my advice. What we had better do,
not being able to convict him, will be to hide our suspicions from him,
and let him believe that we are his dupes."

Mrs. Weldon was right. Dick Sand took her advice.

However, Negoro was called several times.

He did not reply. Either he was still too far away to hear, or he did
not wish to return.

The blacks did not regret being rid of his presence; but, as Mrs.
Weldon had just said, perhaps he was still more to be feared afar than
near. And, moreover, how explain that Negoro would venture alone into
that unknown country? Had he then lost his way, and on this dark night
was he vainly seeking the way to the grotto?

Mrs. Weldon and Dick Sand did not know what to think. However it was,
they could not, in order to wait for Negoro, deprive themselves of a
repose so necessary to all.

At that moment the dog, which was running on the strand, barked aloud.

"What is the matter with Dingo?" asked Mrs. Weldon.

"We must, indeed, find out," replied the novice. "Perhaps it is Negoro
coming back."

At once Hercules, Bat, Austin, and Dick Sand took their way to the
mouth of the river.

But, arrived at the bank, they neither saw nor heard anything. Dingo
now was silent.

Dick Sand and the blacks returned to the grotto.

The going to sleep was organized as well as possible. Each of the
blacks prepared himself to watch in turn outside. But Mrs. Weldon,
uneasy, could not sleep. It seemed to her that this land so ardently
desired did not give her what she had been led to hope for, security
for hers, and rest for herself.


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