Willis the Pilot by Johanna Spyri
Man proposes, but God disposes--The Choice of a Profession--Conqueror--Orator--Astronomer--Composer--Painter--Poet--Village Curate--The Kafirs--Occupations of Women--The Alpha and Omega of the Sea.
To the storm succeeded one of those diluvian showers that have already been described. Rain being merely a result of evaporation, it was evident that sea and land in those climates must perspire at an enormous rate to effect such cataclysms. In consequence of this deluge, the proposed excursion was indefinitely postponed. The provisions, the marvellous kits, the waggon, were all ready; but Nature, as often happens under such circumstances, had assumed a menacing attitude, and for the present forbade the execution of the project.
A sort of vague sadness, that generally accompanies a gloomy atmosphere, weighed upon the spirits of the colonists. Recollections of the Nelson and her sudden disappearance thrust themselves more vividly than ever upon their memory; and Willis was observed to throw his sou'-wester unconsciously on the ground--a proof that remembrances of the past occupied his thoughts.
One of the ladies was occupied in the needful domestic operations of the household, whilst the other sat with a stocking on her left arm, busily occupied in repairing the ravages of tear and wear upon that useful though humble garment. The two young ladies spun, as used to do the great ladies of the court of King Alfred, and as Hercules himself is said to have done when he changed his club and lion's skin for a spindle and distaff with the Queen of Lybia; Jack was apparently sketching, Fritz had a collection of hunting apparatus before him, and the other two young men, each with a book, were deeply immersed in study.
This state of things was by no means cheerful, and Wolston determined to break up the monotony by introducing a subject of conversation likely to interest them all, the old as well as the young.
"By the way, gentlemen," said he, "it occurs to me that you have not yet thought of selecting a profession; your future career seems at present somewhat obscure."
"What would you have?" inquired Jack; "there is no use for lawyers and judges in our colony, except to try plundering monkeys or protect jackal orphans."
"True; but suppose you were to find yourselves, by some chance, again in the great world, there it is necessary to possess a qualification of some kind; a blacksmith or a carpenter, expert in his handicraft, has a better chance of acquiring wealth and position than a man without a profession, however great his talents may be; an idler is a mere clog in the social machine, and is often thrust aside to browse in a corner with monks and donkeys."
"But to acquire a profession, is not instruction and practice necessary?"
"Certainly; it is impossible to become a proficient in any art or science by mere study alone; but before sowing a field, what is done?"
"It is ploughed and manured."
"And should there be only a few seeds?"
"We can sow what we have, and reserve the harvest till next season. By economising each crop in this way, we shall soon have seeds enough to cover any extent of land."
"May I request you, Master Ernest, to draw a conclusion from that as regards sowing the seeds of a future career?"
"I would infer, from your suggestion, that we might adapt ourselves for such and such a profession by preparing our minds to receive instruction in it, and we might also avail ourselves in the meantime of such sources of information regarding it as are at present open to us. The physician in prospective, for example, might make himself familiar with the medical properties of such plants as are within his reach; he might likewise examine the bones of an ape, and thus, by analogy, become acquainted with the framework of the human body. The would-be lawyer might, in the same way, avail himself of the library to obtain an insight into those social mysteries that bind men in communities and necessitate human laws for the preservation of peace and order. Thus, by directing our thoughts into one line of study, we may form a basis upon which the superstructure may be easily erected, and the necessary academical degrees or sanction of the university obtained."
"And, when you see this, why not adopt so commendable a course?"
"Because we may probably be destined to remain here, where, according to Jack, the learned professions, at least, are not likely to be much in demand."
"The study of a particular science or art has charms in itself, which amply compensate the student for his labor. But, even admitting you do not return to the Old World, you forget that it is your intention to colonise this territory."
"It seems, however, that God has willed it otherwise."
"What God does not will in one way, he may bring about in another. What reason have you for supposing that the Nelson may not return with colonists?"
"It will be from the other world then," said Willis.
"Yes, from the other world," replied Jack, "but not in the sense you imply."
"Besides, should the Nelson not reappear, that is no reason why another accident may not drive another ship upon the coast that will be more fortunate; what has happened to-day may surely happen again to-morrow. And in the event of colonists arriving, will there not be sick to cure, boundaries to determine, differences of opinion to decide, and opposing claims to adjudge."
"Certainly, Mr. Wolston."
"Well, admitting these necessities, what profession will each of you select? Let us begin with you, Master Fritz."
"The career," replied Fritz, "that would be most congenial to my taste is that of a conqueror."
"Yes; Alexander, Scipio, Timour the Tartar, and Gengis Khan are the sort of men I should like to resemble. They have made a tolerable figure in the world, and I should have no objection to follow in their footsteps."
"But you forget that their footsteps are marked with tears, disasters, terror, and bloodshed."
"These are indispensable."
"Once, when a great commander was asked the same question, he replied, that you cannot make omelets without breaking eggs."
"Yes," remarked Becker, "but if you had read the anecdote entire, you would have seen that he was asked in return, 'What use there was for so many omelets.'"
"Added to which," continued Wolston, "that is not a normal career; there is no diploma required for it; it is an accident arising out of adventitious circumstances, sometimes fostered by ambition, but no course of study can produce a conqueror."
"What, then, is the use of military schools?"
"They are, to the best of my knowledge, instituted for rearing defenders for one's country, and not with a view to the subjugation of another's."
"My poor Fritz," said Mrs. Becker laughing, "I hope when you conquer half the world, you will find an occupation for your mother more in consonance with your dignity than mending your stockings."
"Then, again," continued Wolston, "war cannot be waged by a single individual."
"There must be an enemy somewhere," suggested Willis.
"The difficulty does not, however, lie there," observed Jack; "for, if we have no enemies, it is easy enough to make them."
"There must, at all events, be armies, magazines, and a treasury--or eggs, as the great commander in question hinted."
"True," replied Fritz; "but there is the same difficulty as regards all professions; there can be no barristers without briefs, no physicians without patients."
"You will admit, however, that clients and patients are not so rare as hundreds of thousands of armed men and millions of money."
"Brother," said Jack, "your cavalry are routed and your infantry outflanked."
"If you are determined to be a conqueror, let it be by the pen rather than by the sword--or, what do you say to oratory? It is not easier, perhaps, but, at all events, eloquence is not denied to ordinary mortals. You will not then, to be sure, rank with the Hannibals, the Tamerlanes, or the Caesars; but you may attain a place with Demosthenes, who was more dreaded by Philip of Macedon than an army of soldiers."
"Or Cicero," remarked Becker, "who preserved his country from the rapacity of Cataline."
"Or Peter the Hermit," remarked Frank, "who by his eloquence roused Europe against the Saracens."
"Or Bossuet," added Wolston, "and then you may venture to assert in the face of kings that God alone is Great, should they, like Louis XIV., assume the sun as an emblem, and adopt such a silly scroll as 'Nec pluribus impar.'"
"Bossuet, Peter the Hermit, Cicero, and Demosthenes, are not so bad, after all, as a last resource," remarked Mrs. Wolston, "and I would recommend you to enrol yourself in that list of conquerors, Master Fritz."
"The more especially," observed Jack, "as you have no impediment in your voice, and would not have to undergo a course of pebbles like Demosthenes."
"So far as that goes, Jack," replied Fritz, "you would possess a like advantage for the profession as myself; but I will take time to reflect." Then, turning towards his mother, he said, "Conqueror or Jack Pudding, mother, you shall always find me a dutiful son."
His mother was more gratified by this expression of attachment than she would have been had he laid at her feet the four thousand golden spurs found, in 1302, on the field of Courtray.
"And now, Ernest, what profession do you intend to adopt? what is your dream of the future?"
"I, Mr. Wolston! Well, having no taste for artillery, brilliant charges, blood-stained ruins, and the other agremens of war, I cannot be a hero. Do you know when I feel most happy?"
"No, let us hear."
"It is towards evening, when I am reposing tranquilly on the banks of the Jackal."
"Ah, I thought so," cried Jack; "no position so congenial to the true philosopher as the horizontal."
"When the sun," continued Ernest, gravely, "is retiring behind the forest of cedars that bounds the horizon; when the palms, the mangoes, and gum trees, mass their verdure in distinct and isolated groups; when nature is making herself heard in a thousand melodious voices; when the hum of the insect is ringing in my ears, and the breeze is gently murmuring through the foliage; when thousands of birds are fluttering from grove to grove, sometimes breaking with their wings the smooth surface of the river; when the fish, leaping out of their own element, reflect for an instant from their silvery scales the departing rays of the sun; when the sea, stretching away like a vast plain of boundless space, loses itself in the distance, then my eyes and thoughts are sometimes turned upwards towards the azure of the firmament, and sometimes towards the objects around me, and I feel as if my mind were in search of something which has hitherto eluded its grasp, but which it is sure of eventually finding. Under these circumstances, I assure you, I would not exchange the moss on which I sat for the greatest throne in Christendom."
"But surely you do not call such a poetical exordium a profession?" remarked Becker.
"It must be admitted," said Wolston, "that the sun and trees have their uses, especially when the one protects us from the other; the sun, for example, dries up the moisture that falls from the trees, and the trees shelter us from the burning rays of the sun. Still, I am at a loss myself to connect these things with a profession in a social point of view."
"What would you have thought," inquired Ernest, "if you had seen Newton and Kepler gazing at the sky, before the one had determined the movements of the celestial bodies, and the other the laws of gravitation? What would you have thought of Parmentier passing hours and days in manipulating a rough-looking bulb, that possessed no kind of value in the eyes of the vulgar, but which afterwards, as the potato, became the chief food of two-thirds of the population of Europe? What would you think of Jenner, with his finger on his brow, searching for a means of preserving humanity from the scourge of the small-pox?"
"But these men had an object in view."
"Jenner, yes; but not the other two. They thought, studied, contemplated, and reflected, satisfied that one day their thoughts, calculations, and reflections would aid in disclosing some mystery of Nature; but it would have perplexed them sorely to have named beforehand the nature and scope of their discoveries."
"According to you, then," said Jack, "there could not be a more dignified profession than that of the scarecrow. The greatest dunderhead in Christendom might simply, by going a star-gazing, pass himself off as an adept in the occult sciences, and claim the right of being a benefactor of mankind in embryo."
"At all events," replied Ernest, "you will admit that, so long as I am ready to bear my share of the common burdens, and take my part in providing for the common wants, and in warding of the common dangers, it is immaterial whether I occupy my leisure hours in reflection or in rifle practice."
"Well," said Jack, "when you have made some discovery that will enrol your name with Descartes, Huygens, Cassini, and such gentlemen, you will do us the honor of letting us know."
"With the greatest pleasure."
"It is a pity that Herschell has invented the telescope: he might have left you a chance for the glory of that invention."
"If I have not discovered a new star, brother, I discovered long ago that you would never be one."
"Well, I hope not; their temperature is too unequal for me--they are either freezing or boiling: at least, so said Fritz the other day, whilst we were--all, what were we doing, Willis?"
"We were supposed to be hunting."
"Ah, so we were."
"Now, Master Jack, it is your turn to enlighten us as to your future career."
"It is quite clear, Mr. Wolston, that, since my brothers are to be so illustrious, I cannot be an ordinary mortal; the honor of the family is concerned, and must be consulted. I am, therefore, resolved to become either a great composer, like Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven; a renowned painter, like Titian, Carrache, or Veronese; or a great poet, like Homer, Virgil, Shakspeare, Dante, Milton, Goethe, and Racine."
"That is to say," remarked Mrs. Wolston, "that you are resolved to be a great something or other."
"Decidedly, madam; on reflection, however, as I value my eyesight, I must except Homer and Milton."
"But have you not determined to which of the muses you will throw the handkerchief?"
"I thought of music at first. It must be a grand thing, said I to myself, that can charm, delight, and draw tears from the eyes of the multitude--that can inspire faith, courage, patriotism, devotion and energy, and that, too, by means of little black dots with tails, interspersed with quavers, crotchets, sharps and flats."
"Have you composed a sonata yet?"
"No, madam; I was going to do so, but it occurred to me that I should require an orchestra to play it."
"And not having that, you abandoned the idea?"
"Exactly, madam. I then turned to poetry. That is an art fit for the gods; it puts you on a level with kings, and makes you in history even more illustrious than them. You ascend the capitol, and there you are crowned with laurel, like the hero of a hundred fights."
"What is the subject of your principal work in this line?"
"Well, madam, I once finished a verse, and was going on with a second, but, somehow or other, I could not get the words to rhyme."
"Then it occurred to you that you had neither a printer nor readers, and you broke your lyre?"
"I was about to reproach you, Master Jack," said Wolston, "for undertaking too many things at once; but I see the ranks are beginning to thin."
"Beautiful as poetry may be," continued Jack, one gets tired of reading and re-reading one's own effusions."
"It is even often intensely insipid the very first time," remarked Mrs. Wolston.
"There still remains painting," continued Jack. "Painting is vastly superior to either music or poetry. In the first place, it requires no interpreter between itself and the public;--what, for example, remains of a melody after a concert? nothing but the recollection. Poesy may excite admiration in the retirement of one's chamber; your nostrils are, as it were, reposing on the bouquet, though often you have still a difficulty in smelling anything. But if once you give life to canvas, it is eternal."
"Eternal is scarcely the proper word," remarked Wolston: "the celebrated fresco of Leonardo da Vinci, in the refectory of the Dominicans at Milan, is nothing but a confused mass of colors and figures."
"I answer that by saying that the painting in question is only a fresco. Besides, I use the word eternal in a modified or relative sense. A painting is preserved from generation to generation, whilst its successive races of admirers are mingled with the dust. Then suppose a painter in his studio; he cannot look around him without awakening some memory of the past. He can associate with those he loves when they are absent, nay, even when they are dead, and they always remain young and beautiful as when he first delineated them."
"Take care," cried Ernest, pushing back his seat, "if you go on at that rate you will take fire."
"No fear of that, brother, unless you have a star or a comet in your pocket, in which case you are not far enough away yet."
These occasional bickerings between Ernest and Jack were always given and taken in good part, and had only the effect of raising a good-humored laugh.
"Let the painter," he continued, "fall in with a spot that pleases him, he can take it with him and have it always before his eyes. The hand of God or of man may alter the original, the forest may lose its trees, the old castle may be destroyed by fire or time, the green meadow may be converted into a dismal swamp, but to him the landscape always retains its pristine freshness, the same butterfly still flutters about the same bush, the same bee still sucks at the same flower."
"Really," said Mrs. Wolston, "it is a pity, after all, that you did not achieve your second verse."
"And yet," continued Jack, "that is only a copy. How much more sublime when we regard the painter as a creator! If there is in the past or present a heroic deed--if there is in the infinity of his life one moment more blessed than another, like Pygmalion he breathes into it the breath of life, and it becomes imperishable. Who would think a century or two hence of the victories of Fritz, unless the skill of the painter be called in to immortalize them!"
"I agree with you in thinking that the arts you name are the source of beautiful and legitimate emotions. But generally it is better to view them as a recreation or pastime, rather than a profession. They have doubtless made a few men live in posterity, but, on the other hand, they have embittered and shortened the lives of thousands."
"You will never guess what led me to adopt this art in preference to the two others. It was the discovery, that we made some years ago, of a gum tree, the name of which I do not recollect."
"The myrica cerifera," said Ernest.
"From the gum of this tree the varnish may be made. Now, like my brother, who, when he sees the sun overhead, considers he ought to profit by the circumstance and become a discoverer, so I said to myself: You have varnish, all you want, therefore, to produce a magnificent painting is canvas, colors, and talent; consequently, you must not allow such an opportunity to pass--it would be unpardonable. Accordingly, I set to work with an energy never before equalled; and," added he, showing the design he had just finished, "here are two eyes and a nose, that I do not think want expression."
"Capital!" said Mrs. Wolston; "your painting will be in admirable keeping with the hangings my daughters have promised to work for your mamma."
"Nobody can deny," continued Jack, laughing, "that the colony is advancing in civilization; it already possesses a conqueror, a member of the Royal Society minus the diploma, and an Apelles in embryo."
"It is now your turn, Frank."
"I," replied Frank, in his mild but penetrating voice, "if I may be allowed to liken the flowers of the garden to the occupations of human life, I should prefer the part of the violet."
"It hides itself," said Mrs. Wolston, "but its presence is not the less felt."
"When I have allowed myself to indulge in dreams of the future, I have pictured myself dwelling in a modest cottage, partially shrouded in ivy, not very far from the village church. My coat is a little threadbare."
"Why threadbare?" inquired Sophia.
"Because there are a number of very poor people all round me, and I cannot make up my mind to lay out money on myself when it is wanted by them."
"Such a coat would be sacred in our eyes," said Mrs. Wolston.
"In the morning I take a walk in my little garden; I inspect the flowers one after the other; chide my dog, who is not much of a florist; then, perhaps, I retire to my study, where I am always ready to receive those who may require my aid, my advice, or my personal services."
Here Mrs. Wolston shook Frank very warmly by the hand.
"Sometimes I go amongst the laborers in the fields, talk to them of the rain, of the fine weather, and of HIM who gives both. I enter the home of the artizan, cheer him in his labors, and interest myself in the affairs of his family; I call the children by their names, caress them, and make them my friends. I talk to them of our Redeemer, and thus, in familiarly conversing with the young, I find means of instructing the old. They, perhaps, tell me of a sick neighbor; I direct my steps there, and endeavor to mitigate the pangs of disease by words of consolation and hope; I strive to pour balm on the wounded spirit, and, if the mind has been led away by the temptations of the world, I urge repentance as a means of grace. If death should step in, then I kneel with those around, and join them in soliciting a place amongst the blessed for the departed soul."
"We shall all gladly aid you in such labors of love," said Mrs. Wolston.
"When death has deprived a family of its chief support, then I appeal to those whom God has blessed with the things of this world for the means of assisting the widow and the fatherless. To one I say, 'You regret having no children, or bemoan those you have lost; here are some that God has sent you.' I say to another, 'You have only one child, whilst you have the means of supporting ten; you can at least charge yourself with two.' Thus I excite the charity of some and the pity of others, till the bereaved family is provided for. I obtain work for those that are desirous of earning an honest living, I bring back to the fold the sheep that are straying, and rescue those that are tottering on the brink of infidelity."
Here the girls came forward and volunteered to assist Frank in such works of mercy.
"I accept your proffered aid, my dear girls, but, as yet, I am only picturing a future career for myself. After a day devoted to such labors as these, I return to my home, perhaps to be welcomed by a little circle of my own, for I hope to be received as a minister of the Protestant Church, and, as such, may look forward to a partner in my joys and troubles. Should Providence, however, shape my destiny otherwise, I shall have the poor and afflicted--always a numerous family--to bestow my affections upon. But, whilst much of my time is thus passed amongst the sorrowing and the sick, still there are hours of gaiety amongst the gloom--there are weddings, christenings, and merrymakings--there are happy faces to greet me as well as sad ones--and I am no ascetic. I take part in all the innocent amusements that are not inconsistent with my years or the gravity of my profession--but you seem sad, Mrs. Wolston."
"Yes, Frank; you have recalled my absent son, Richard, so vividly to my memory, that I cannot help shedding a tear."
"Is your son in orders then, madam?"
"He is precisely what you have pictured yourself to be, a minister of the gospel, and a most exemplary young man."
"If," remarked Becker, "we have hitherto refrained from inquiring after your son, madam, it was because we had no wish to recall to your mind the distance that separated you from him, and we should be glad to know his history."
"There is little to relate; he is very young yet, and as soon as he had obtained his ordination, he was offered a mission to Oregon, which he accepted; but the ship having been detained at the Cape of Good Hope, he regarded the accident as a divine message, to convert the heathen of Kafraria, where he now is."
"It is no sinecure to live amongst these copper-colored rascals," said Willis; "they are constantly stealing the cattle of the Dutch settlers in their neighborhood. About twelve years ago, our ship was stationed at the Cape, and I was sent with a party of blue jackets into the interior, as far as Fort Wiltshire, on the Krieskamma, the most remote point of the British possessions in South Africa. There we dispersed a cloud of them that had been for weeks living upon other people's property. They are tall, wiry fellows, as hardy as a pine tree, and as daring as buccaneers. The chief of the kraals, or huts, wear leopard or panther skins, and profess to have the power of causing rain to fall, besides an endless number of other miraculous attributes. Amongst them, a wife of the ordinary class costs eight head of cattle, but the price of a young lady of the higher ranks runs as high as twenty cows. When a Kafir is suspected of a crime, his tongue is touched seven times with hot iron, and if it is not burnt he is declared innocent."
"I am afraid," said Jack, "if they were all subjected to that test, they would be found to be a very bad lot. But now, since we have all decided upon a profession, let us hear what the young ladies intend doing with themselves; let them consult their imagination for a beautiful future gilded with sunshine, and embroidered with gold."
"There is only one occupation for women," said Mrs. Becker, "and that is too well defined to admit of speculation, and too important to admit of fanciful embellishments."
"Well, then, mother, let us hear what it is."
"It is to nurse you, and rear you, when you are unable to help yourselves; to guide your first steps, and teach you to lisp your first syllables. For this purpose, God has given her qualities that attract sympathy and engender love. She is so constituted as to impart a charm to your lives, to share in your labors, to soothe you when you are ruffled, to smooth your pillow when you are in pain, and to cherish you in old age; bestowing upon you, to your last hour, cares that no other love could yield. These, gentlemen, are the duties and occupations of women; and you must admit, that if it is not our province to command armies, or to add new planets to the galaxy of the firmament; that if we have not produced an Iliad or an AEnead, a Jerusalem Delivered, or a Paradise Lost, an Oratorio of the Creation, a Transfiguration, or a Laocoon, we have not the less our modest utility."
"I should think so, mother," replied Jack; "it would take no end of philosophers to do the work of one of you."
"It surprises me," said Willis, "that not one of you has selected the finest profession in the world--that of a sailor."
"The finest profession of the sea, you mean, Willis. There is no doubt of its being the finest that can be exercised on the ocean, since it is the only one. If it is the best, Willis, it is also the worst."
"It has also produced great men," continued Willis; "there are Columbus, Vasco de Gama, and Captain Cook, to whom you are indebted for a new world."
"No thanks to them for that," said Jack; "if they had not discovered a new world we should have been in an old one."
"That does not follow," remarked Ernest; "the new world would have existed even if it had not been discovered, and you might have found your way there all the same."
"Not very likely," replied Jack, "unless one of the stars you intend to discover had shown us the way; otherwise it would only have existed in conjecture; and as nobody under such circumstances would have dreamt of settling in it, they would not have been shipwrecked during the voyage."
"Very true," remarked Fritz; "if we had not been here we should, very probably, have been somewhere else, and perhaps in a much worse plight. Let me ask if there is any one here who regrets his present position?"
Willis was about to reply to this question, but Sophia observing that there was something wrong with the handkerchief that he wore round his neck, hastened towards him to put it to rights, and he was silent.
The hour had now arrived when the families separated for the night. Mary was preparing as usual to recite the evening prayer, but before doing so she whispered a few words in her mother's ear.
"Yes, my child;" and, turning to Frank, she added, "Since you are determined to adopt the ministry as a profession, it is but right that we should for the future entrust ourselves to your prayers."
The two families were now located in their respective eyries; and Jack, whilst escorting the Wolstons to the foot of their tree, said to Sophia,
"I thought the chimpanzee had been playing some prank."
"So he has. Has nobody told you of it?"
"No, not a soul."
"Then I will be as discreet as my neighbors; good night, Master Jack."