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The Island
by [?]

“Perhaps we had better not land after all,” said Lewis as he was stepping into the boat; “we can explore this island on our way home.”

“We had much better land now,” said Stewart; “we shall get to Teneriffe to-morrow in any case. Besides, an island that’s not on the chart is too exciting a thing to wait for.”

Lewis gave in to his younger companion, and the two ornithologists, who were on their way to the Canary Islands in search of eggs, were rowed to shore.

“They had better fetch us at sunset,” said Lewis as they landed.

“Perhaps we shall stay the night,” responded Stewart.

“I don’t think so,” said Lewis; but after a pause he told the sailors that if they should be more than half an hour late they were not to wait, but to come back in the morning at ten. Lewis and Stewart walked from the sandy bay up a steep basaltic cliff which sloped right down to the beach.

“The island is volcanic,” said Stewart.

“All the islands about here are volcanic,” said Lewis. “We shan’t be able to climb much in this heat,” he added.

“It will be all right when we get to the trees,” said Stewart. Presently they reached the top of the cliff. The basaltic rock ceased and an open grassy incline was before them covered with myrtle and cactus bushes; and further off a thick wood, to the east of which rose a hill sparsely dotted with olive trees. They sat down on the grass, panting. The sun beat down on the dry rock; there was not a cloud in the sky nor a ripple on the emerald sea. In the air there was a strange aromatic scent; and the stillness was heavy.

“I don’t think it can be inhabited,” said Lewis.

“Perhaps it’s merely a volcanic island cast up by a sea disturbance,” suggested Stewart.

“Look at those trees,” said Lewis, pointing to the wood in the distance.

“What about them?” asked Stewart.

“They are oak trees,” said Lewis. “Do you know why I didn’t want to land?” he asked abruptly. “I am not superstitious, you know, but as I got into the boat I distinctly heard a voice calling out: ‘Don’t land!'”

Stewart laughed. “I think it was a good thing to land,” he said. “Let’s go on now.”

They walked towards the wood, and the nearer they got to it the more their surprise increased. It was a thick wood of large oak trees which must certainly have been a hundred years old. When they had got quite close to it they paused.

“Before we explore the wood,” said Lewis, “let us climb the hill and see if we can get a general view of the island.”

Stewart agreed, and they climbed the hill in silence. When they reached the top they found it was not the highest point of the island, but only one of several hills, so that they obtained only a limited view. The valleys seemed to be densely wooded, and the oak wood was larger than they had imagined. They laid down and rested and lit their pipes.

“No birds,” remarked Lewis gloomily.

“I haven’t seen one–the island is extraordinarily still,” said Stewart. The further they had penetrated inland the more oppressive and sultry the air had become; and the pungent aroma they had noticed directly was stronger. It was like that of mint, and yet it was not mint; and although sweet it was not agreeable. The heat seemed to weigh even on Stewart’s buoyant spirits, for he sat smoking in silence, and no longer urged Lewis to continue their exploration.

“I think the island is inhabited,” said Lewis, “and that the houses are on the other side. There are some sheep and some goats on that hill opposite. Do you see?”

“Yes,” said Stewart, “I think they are mouflon, but I don’t think the island is inhabited all the same.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than he started, and rising to his feet, cried: “Look there!” and he pointed to a thin wreath of smoke which was rising from the wood. Their languor seemed to leave them, and they ran down the hill and reached the wood once more. Just as they were about to enter it Lewis stooped and pointed to a small plant with white flowers and three oval-shaped leaves rising from the root.