Travels Without a Donkey

Whenever we could, we camped on islands. Even if they consist of one rock, one bush, and one turtle sitting in the sun, there is always glamour about them. Which explains why we headed promptly for one as soon as we had collected Old Bones from the station at Oquossoc, and got her headed outward on the first of the Rangeley Lakes. This island was quite large, and had good spruce woods on it, also what looked like an abandoned house. And it had a beach to land on…. But was it a beach? We drew closer… It was artificial! Someone had cleared away all the rocks from a short strip of shore, and piled them high on either side, leaving a low sandy stretch. This was hemmed in not only by the piles, which must have amounted to tons and tons of rocks, but also by two enormous tree-trunks, one on either side–trunks such as only a whole gang of laborers could have put in place.

We wondered….

A neat path led back into the woods. Beside it was a curious shed, long and narrow and high, as it meant to house a motor-launch. The trouble was, no motor-launch could possibly have gone through the narrow doorway. We studied the shed some more. Wide planks stood upright against a strange, rounded roof. As we stared, this roof gradually took on a familiar look; and suddenly it dawned upon us that it was simply a big dory upside-down!

A few yards further, we stopped to stare at another marvel. The front end of a motor-boat, which had been vertically sawed in half across the middle, stood upside-down on stilts two or three feet high. For no reason at all, apparently. It was just there.

Nick drew in his breath sharply, and passed a hand over his eyes, as if something was wrong with them. Neither of us said anything, but the farther we went, the more we doubted our senses. We saw the ruin of what had been a solid little house, with a pleasant lawn and birch trees around it; and we saw an unfinished three-sided log shelter like those in the White Mountains–but these were ordinary enough. We also saw an enormous hole in the ground with several huge beams laid across the top of it–beams such as only a good deal of power could have put there. We saw a block of stone about four feet square and two feet thick, set off from the ground on two chunks of stove wood. We found a deep passage into the ground, partly filled with sawdust. Ice might once have been kept there. We found a pile of old bed-springs. We found cages and chicken-coops. We found paths through shrubbery; and flowers, now uncared for–poppies, pansies, marigolds, peonies, red and white roses. We found cisterns–a deep iron tank sunk into the ground; and another one built of stones. Any number of strange holes, serving no apparent purpose. Rock-piles, corresponding with the holes. Old iron boiler tanks.

“What do you make of it?” I asked.

“It looks to me,” said Nick, “as if at least ten persons, of gigantic strength and completely crazy, had been turned loose here and allowed to carry on for some years.”

This idea was anything but reassuring. We explored cautiously toward the other end of the island, and found the remains of another garden. We were pretty scared now, so that ordinary currant bushes, carefully potted, had an air of mystery. There were also gooseberries, grape vines, raspberries. And a blackberry patch. But not a real one. This was going too far. This was Alice-in-Wonderland stuff. Enormous arching tentacles reached up and outward… thorns half an inch long… berries, just beginning to ripen, each berry as big as or bigger than a crab-apple.

It was like some fantastic, frightening dream, peopled with shapes and shadows–ludicrous, grotesquely distorted.

We fetched our canvas water-bucket. I crept in around the outer fringes of that blackberry patch, a fit habitation for the Macbeth witches, or any other witches. Plunk, plunk–keplunk! I dropped the berries into the bucket. We tasted one, each taking a large bite out of it… sweet and juicy, and tasted like a blackberry. Plunk, plunk! In ten minutes that bucket was full.

Slowly the palpitating of our hearts grew less, as we began to adapt ourselves to these incongruous surroundings. We built a fire and ate supper on a dock affair–another of those giant tree-trunks on the shore–and we watched the moon rise, full, pale gold, while we ate enormous quantities of blackberries with Klim and brown sugar. No monsters descended or ascended. Life went calmly on. We cut the usual fir boughs, and spread them on the floor of the unfinished log shelter. A quiet talk, a long sleep. In the morning another bucket of blackberries, and a swim. Then we piled our belongings into Bones, and pushed off from that perhaps enchanted shore, leaving Mysterious Island wrapped in its sinister yet comic mystery.

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