FictionForest

Chapter 2 – The Cavern Under the Sea

L. Frank BaumOct 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The circles were so much smaller at the bottom of the
basin, and the boat moved so much more swiftly, that
Trot was beginning to get dizzy with the motion, when
suddenly the boat made a leap and dived headlong into
the murky depths of the hole. Whirling like tops, but
still clinging together, the sailor and the girl were
separated from their boat and plunged down — down —
down — into the farthermost recesses of the great
ocean.

At first their fall was swift as an arrow, but
presently they seemed to be going more moderately and
Trot was almost sure that unseen arms were about her,
supporting her and protecting her. She could see
nothing, because the water filled her eyes and blurred
her vision, but she clung fast to Cap’n Bill’s
sou’wester, while other arms clung fast to her, and so
they gradually sank down and down until a full stop was
made, when they began to ascend again.

But it seemed to Trot that they were not rising
straight to the surface from where they had come. The
water was no longer whirling them and they seemed to be
drawn in a slanting direction through still, cool ocean
depths. And then — in much quicker time than I have
told it — up they popped to the surface and were cast
at full length upon a sandy beach, where they lay
choking and gasping for breath and wondering what had
happened to them.

Trot was the first to recover. Disengaging herself
from Cap’n Bill’s wet embrace and sitting up, she
rubbed the water from her eyes and then looked around
her. A soft, bluish-green glow lighted the place,
which seemed to be a sort of cavern, for above and on
either side of her were rugged rocks. They had been
cast upon a beach of clear sand, which slanted upward
from the pool of water at their feet — a pool which
doubtless led into the big ocean that fed it. Above the
reach of the waves of the pool were more rocks, and
still more and more, into the dim windings and recesses
of which the glowing light from the water did not
penetrate.

The place looked grim and lonely, but Trot was
thankful that she was still alive and had suffered no
severe injury during her trying adventure under water.
At her side Cap’n Bill was sputtering and coughing,
trying to get rid of the water he had swallowed. Both
of them were soaked through, yet the cavern was warm
and comfortable and a wetting did not dismay the little
girl in the least.

She crawled up the slant of sand and gathered in her
hand a bunch of dried seaweed, with which she mopped
the face of Cap’n Bill and cleared the water from his
eyes and ears. Presently the old man sat up and stared
at her intently. Then he nodded his bald head three
times and said in a gurgling voice:

“Mighty good, Trot; mighty good! We didn’t reach Davy
Jones’s locker that time, did we? Though why we didn’t,
an’ why we’re here, is more’n I kin make out.”

“Take it easy, Cap’n,” she replied. “We’re safe
enough, I guess, at least for the time being.”

He squeezed the water out of the bottoms of his loose
trousers and felt of his wooden leg and arms and head,
and finding he had brought all of his person with him
he gathered courage to examine closely their
surroundings.

“Where d’ye think we are, Trot?.” he presently asked.

“Can’t say, Cap’n. P’r’aps in one of our caves.”

He shook his head. “No,” said he, “I don’t think
that, at all. The distance we came up didn’t seem half
as far as the distance we went down; an’ you’ll notice
there ain’t any outside entrance to this cavern
whatever. It’s a reg’lar dome over this pool o’ water,
and unless there’s some passage at the back, up yonder,
we’re fast pris’ners.”

Trot looked thoughtfully over her shoulder.

“When we’re rested,” she said, “we will crawl up
there and see if there’s a way to get out.”

Cap’n Bill reached in the pocket of his oilskin coat
and took out his pipe. It was still dry, for he kept it
in an oilskin pouch with his tobacco. His matches were
in a tight tin box, so in a few moments the old sailor
was smoking contentedly. Trot knew it helped him to
think when he was in any difficulty. Also, the pipe did
much to restore the old sailor’s composure, after his
long ducking and his terrible fright — a fright that
was more on Trot’s account than his own.

The sand was dry where they sat, and soaked up the
water that dripped from their clothing. When Trot had
squeezed the wet out of her hair she began to feel much
like her old self again. By and by they got upon their
feet and crept up the incline to the scattered boulders
above. Some of these were of huge size, but by passing
between some and around others, they were able to reach
the extreme rear of the cavern.

“Yes,” said Trot, with interest, “here’s a round
hole.”

“And it’s black as night inside it,” remarked Cap’n
Bill.

Just the same,” answered the girl, “we ought to
explore it, and see where it goes, ’cause it’s the only
poss’ble way we can get out of this place.”

Cap’n Bill eyed the hole doubtfully

“It may be a way out o’ here, Trot,” he said, “but it
may be a way into a far worse place than this. I’m not
sure but our best plan is to stay right here.”

Trot wasn’t sure, either, when she thought of it in
that light. After awhile she made her way back to the
sands again, and Cap’n Bill followed her. As they sat
down, the child looked thoughtfully at the sailor’s
bulging pockets.

“How much food have we got, Cap’n?” she asked.

“Half a dozen ship’s biscuits an’ a hunk o’ cheese,”
he replied. “Want some now, Trot?”

She shook her head, saying:

“That ought to keep us alive ’bout three days if
we’re careful of it.”

“Longer’n that, Trot,” said Cap’n Bill, but his voice
was a little troubled and unsteady.

“But if we stay here we’re bound to starve in time,”
continued the girl, “while if we go into the dark hole
–”

“Some things are more hard to face than starvation,”
said the sailor-man, gravely. “We don’t know what’s
inside that dark hole: Trot, nor where it might lead us
to.”

“There’s a way to find that out,” she persisted.

Instead of replying, Cap’n Bill began searching in
his pockets. He soon drew out a little package of fish-
hooks and a long line. Trot watched him join them
together. Then he crept a little way up the slope and
turned over a big rock. Two or three small crabs began
scurrying away over the sands and the old sailor caught
them and put one on his hook and the others in his
pocket. Coming back to the pool he swung the hook over
his shoulder and circled it around his head and cast it
nearly into the center of the water, where he allowed
it to sink gradually, paying out the line as far as it
would go. When the end was reached, he began drawing it
in again, until the crab bait was floating on the
surface.

Trot watched him cast the line a second time, and a
third. She decided that either there were no fishes in
the pool or they would not bite the crab bait. But
Cap’n Bill was an old fisherman and not easily
discouraged. When the crab got away he put another on
the hook. When the crabs were all gone he climbed up
the rocks and found some more.

Meantime Trot tired of watching him and lay down upon
the sands, where she fell fast asleep. During the next
two hours her clothing dried completely, as did that of
the old sailor. They were both so used to salt water
that there was no danger of taking cold.

Finally the little girl was wakened by a splash
beside her and a grunt of satisfaction from Cap’n Bill.
She opened her eyes to find that the Cap’n had landed a
silver-scaled fish weighing about two pounds. This
cheered her considerably and she hurried to scrape
together a heap of seaweed, while Cap’n Bill cut up the
fish with his jackknife and got it ready for cooking.

They had cooked fish with seaweed before. Cap’n Bill
wrapped his fish in some of the weed and dipped it in
the water to dampen it. Then he lighted a match and set
fire to Trot’s heap, which speedily burned down to a
glowing bed of ashes. Then they laid the wrapped fish
on the ashes, covered it with more seaweed, and allowed
this to catch fire and burn to embers. After feeding
the fire with seaweed for some time, the sailor finally
decided that their supper was ready, so he scattered
the ashes and drew out the bits of fish, still encased
in their smoking wrappings.

When these wrappings were removed, the fish was found
thoroughly cooked and both Trot and Cap’n Bill ate of
it freely. It had a slight flavor of seaweed and would
have been better with a sprinkling of salt.

The soft glow which until now had lighted the cavern,
began to grow dim, but there was a great quantity of
seaweed in the place, so after they had eaten their
fish they kept the fire alive for a time by giving it a
handful of fuel now and then.

From an inner pocket the sailor drew a small flask of
battered metal and unscrewing the cap handed it to
Trot. She took but one swallow of the water although
she wanted more, and she noticed that Cap’n Bill merely
wet his lips with it.

“S’pose,” said she, staring at the glowing seaweed
fire and speaking slowly, “that we can catch all the
fish we need; how ’bout the drinking-water, Cap’n?”

He moved uneasily but did not reply. Both of them
were thinking about the dark hole, but while Trot had
little fear of it the old man could not overcome his
dislike to enter the place. He knew that Trot was
right, though. To remain in the cavern, where they now
were, could only result in slow but sure death.

It was nighttime up on the earth’s surface, so the
little girl became drowsy and soon fell asleep. After a
time the old sailor slumbered on the sands beside her.
It was very still and nothing disturbed them for hours.
When at last they awoke the cavern was light again.

They had divided one of the biscuits and were
munching it for breakfast when they were startled by a
sudden splash in the pool. Looking toward it they saw
emerging from the water the most curious creature
either of them had ever beheld. It wasn’t a fish, Trot
decided, nor was it a beast. It had wings, though, and
queer wings they were: shaped like an inverted
chopping-bowl and covered with tough skin instead of
feathers. It had four legs — much like the legs of a
stork, only double the number — and its head was
shaped a good deal like that of a poll parrot, with a
beak that curved downward in front and upward at the
edges, and was half bill and half mouth. But to call it
a bird was out of the question, because it had no
feathers whatever except a crest of wavy plumes of a
scarlet color on the very top of its head. The strange
creature must have weighed as much as Cap’n Bill, and
as it floundered and struggled to get out of the water
to the sandy beach it was so big and unusual that both
Trot and her companion stared at it in wonder — in
wonder that was not unmixed with fear.

 

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