The Island by Maurice Baring
"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,"
"Look at those trees," said Lewis, pointing to the wood in the
"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
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
"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.
"What's that?" he asked Stewart, who was the better botanist of the
two. The flowers were quite white, and each had six pointed petals.
"It's a kind of garlic, I think," said Stewart. Lewis bent down over
it. "It doesn't smell," he said. "It's not unlike moly (Allium
flavum), only it's white instead of yellow, and the flowers are
larger. I'm going to take it with me." He began scooping away the
earth with a knife so as to take out the plant by the roots. After he
had been working for some minutes he exclaimed: "This is the toughest
plant I've ever seen; I can't get it out." He was at last successful,
but as he pulled the root he gave a cry of surprise.
"There's no bulb," he said. "Look! Only a black root."
Stewart examined the plant. "I can't make it out," he said.
Lewis wrapped the plant in his handkerchief and put it in his pocket.
They entered the wood. The air was still more sultry here than
outside, and the stillness even more oppressive. There were no birds
and not a vestige of bird life.
"This exploration is evidently a waste of time as far as birds are
concerned," remarked Lewis. At that moment there was a rustle in the
undergrowth, and five pigs crossed their path and disappeared,
grunting. Lewis started, and for some reason he could not account for,
shuddered; he looked at Stewart, who appeared unconcerned.
"They are not wild," said Stewart. They walked on in silence. The
place and its heavy atmosphere had again affected their spirits. When
they spoke it was almost in a whisper. Lewis wished they had not
landed, but he could give no reason to himself for his wish. After
they had been walking for about twenty minutes they suddenly came on
an open space and a low white house. They stopped and looked at each
"It's got no chimney!" cried Lewis, who was the first to speak. It was
a one-storeyed building, with large windows (which had no glass in
them) reaching to the ground, wider at the bottom than at the top. The
house was overgrown with creepers; the roof was flat. They entered in
silence by the large open doorway and found themselves in a low hall.
There was no furniture and the floor was mossy.
"It's rather like an Egyptian tomb," said Stewart, and he shivered.
The hall led into a further room, which was open in the centre to the
sky, like the impluvium of a Roman house. It also contained a square
basin of water, which was filled by water bubbling from a lion's mouth
carved in stone. Beyond the impluvium there were two smaller rooms,
in one of which there was a kind of raised stone platform. The house
was completely deserted and empty. Lewis and Stewart said little; they
examined the house in silent amazement.
"Look," said Lewis, pointing to one of the walls. Stewart examined the
wall and noticed that there were traces on it of a faded painted
"It's like the wall paintings at Pompeii," he said.
"I think the house is modern," remarked Lewis. "It was probably built
by some eccentric at the beginning of the nineteenth century, who did
it up in Empire style."
"Do you know what time it is?" said Stewart, suddenly. "The sun has
set and it's growing dark."
"We must go at once," said Lewis, "we'll come back here to-morrow."
They walked on in silence. The wood was dim in the twilight, a fitful
breeze made the trees rustle now and again, but the air was just as
sultry as ever. The shapes of the trees seemed fantastic and almost
threatening in the dimness, and the rustle of the leaves was like a
human moan. Once or twice they seemed to hear the grunting of pigs in
the undergrowth and to catch sight of bristly backs.
"We don't seem to be getting any nearer the end," said Stewart after a
time. "I think we've taken the wrong path. They stopped. "I remember
that tree," said Stewart, pointing to a twisted oak; "we must go
straight on from there to the left." They walked on and in ten
minutes' time found themselves once more at the back of the house. It
was now quite dark.
"We shall never find the way now," said Lewis. "We had better sleep in
the house." They walked through the house into one of the furthest
rooms and settled themselves on the mossy platform. The night was warm
and starry, the house deathly still except for the splashing of the
water in the basin.
"We shan't get any food," Lewis said.
"I'm not hungry," said Stewart, and Lewis knew that he could not have
eaten anything to save his life. He felt utterly exhausted and yet not
at all sleepy. Stewart, on the other hand, was overcome with
drowsiness. He lay down on the mossy platform and fell asleep almost
instantly. Lewis lit a pipe; the vague forebodings he had felt in the
morning had returned to him, only increased tenfold. He felt an
unaccountable physical discomfort, an inexplicable sensation of
uneasiness. Then he realised what it was. He felt there was someone in
the house besides themselves, someone or something that was always
behind him, moving when he moved and watching him. He walked into the
impluvium, but heard nothing and saw nothing. There were none of the
thousand little sounds, such as the barking of a dog, or the hoot of a
night-bird, which generally complete the silence of a summer night.
Everything was uncannily still. He returned to the room. He would have
given anything to be back on the yacht, for besides the physical
sensation of discomfort and of the something watching him he also felt
the unmistakable feeling of impending danger that had been with him
nearly all day.
He lay down and at last fell into a doze. As he dozed he heard a
subdued noise, a kind of buzzing, such as is made by a spinning wheel
or a shuttle on a loom, and more strongly than ever he felt that he
was being watched. Then all at once his body seemed to grow stiff with
fright. He saw someone enter the room from the impluvium. It was a
dim, veiled figure, the figure of a woman. He could not distinguish
her features, but he had the impression that she was strangely
beautiful; she was bearing a cup in her hands, and she walked towards
Stewart and bent over him, offering him the cup.
Something in Lewis prompted him to cry out with all his might: "Don't
drink! Don't drink!" He heard the words echoing in the air, just as he
had heard the voice in the boat; he felt that it was imperative to
call out, and yet he could not: he was paralysed; the words would not
come. He formed them with his lips, but no sound came. He tried with
all his might to rise and scream, and he could not move. Then a sudden
cold faintness came upon him, and he remembered no more till he woke
and found the sun shining brightly. Stewart was lying with his eyes
closed, moaning loudly in his sleep.
Lewis tried to wake him. He opened his eyes and stared with a fixed,
meaningless stare. Lewis tried to lift him from the platform, and then
a horrible thing happened. Stewart struggled violently and made a
snarling noise, which froze the blood in Lewis's veins. He ran out of
the house with cold beads of sweat on his forehead. He ran through the
wood to the shore, and there he found the boat. He rowed back to the
yacht and fetched some quinine. Then, together with the skipper, the
steward, and some other sailors, he returned to the ominous house.
They found it empty. There was no trace of Stewart. They shouted in
the wood till they were hoarse, but no answer broke the heavy
Then sending for the rest of the crew, Lewis organised a regular
search over the whole island. This lasted till sunset, and they
returned in the evening without having found any trace of Stewart or
of any other human being. In the night a high wind rose, which soon
became a gale; they were obliged to weigh anchor so as not to be
dashed against the island, and for twenty-four hours they underwent a
terrific tossing. Then the storm subsided as quickly as it had come.
They made for the island once more and reached the spot where they had
anchored three days before. There was no trace of the island. It had
When they reached Teneriffe the next day they found that everybody was
talking of the great tidal wave which had caused such great damage and
destruction in the islands.