Willis the Pilot by Johanna Spyri
Separation--Guelphs and Ghibelines--Montagues and Capulets--Sadness--The Reunion--Jocko and his Education--The Entertainments of a King--The Mules of Nero and the Asses of Poppća--Hercules and Achilles--Liberty and Equality--Semiramis and Elizabeth--Christianity and the Religion of Zoroaster--The Willisonian Method--Moral Discipline versus Birch.
Winter was now drawing near, with its storms and deluges. Becker therefore felt that it was necessary to make some alterations in their domestic arrangements; and he saw that, for this season at all events, the two families must be separated--this was to create a desert within a desert; but propriety and convenience demanded the sacrifice.
It was decided that Wolston and his family should be quartered at Rockhouse, whilst Becker and his family should pass the rainy season at Falcon's Nest, where, though these aerial dwellings were but indifferently adapted for winter habitations, they had passed the first year of their sojourn in the colony. The rains came and submerged the country between the two families, thus, for a time, cutting off all communication between them. The barriers that separated the Guelphs from the Ghibelines, the Montagues from the Capulets, the Burgundians from the Armagnacs, and the House of York from that of Lancaster, could not have been more impenetrable than that which now existed between the Wolstons and Beckers.
Whenever a lull occurred in the storm, or a ray of sunshine shot through the murky clouds, all eyes were mechanically turned to the window, but only to turn them away again with a sigh; so completely had the waters invaded the land, that nothing short of the dove from Noah's Ark could have performed the journey between Rockhouse and Falcon's Nest.
Dulness and dreariness reigned triumphant at both localities. The calm tranquility that Becker's family formerly enjoyed under similar circumstances had fled. They felt that happiness was no longer to be enjoyed within the limits of their own circle. Study and conversation lost their charms; and if they laughed now, the smile never extended beyond the tips of their lips. The young people often wished they possessed Fortunatus's cap, or Aladdin's wonderful lamp, to transport them from the one dwelling to the other; but as they could obtain no such occult mode of conveyance, there was no remedy for their miseries but patience. To the Wolstons this interval of compulsory separation was particularly irksome, as this was the first time in their lives that they had been entirely isolated for any length of time.
At Falcon's Nest, Ernest was the most popular member of the domestic circle. His astronomical predilections made him the Sir Oracle of the storm, and he was constantly being asked for information relative to the progress and probable duration of the rains. Every morning he was called upon for a report as to the state of the weather; but, with all his skill, he could afford them very little consolation.
But all things come to an end, as well as regards our troubles as our joys. One morning, Ernest reported that less rain had fallen during the preceding than any former night of the season; the next morning a still more favorable report was presented; and on the third morning the floods had subsided, but had left a substratum of mud that obliterated all traces of the roads. Notwithstanding this, and a smart shower that continued to fall, Fritz and Jack determined to force a passage to Rockhouse.
Towards evening, the two young men returned, soaking with wet and covered with mud, but with light hearts, for they had found their companions in the enjoyment of perfect health and in the best spirits. They brought back with them a missive, couched in the following terms:--
"Mr. and Mrs. Wolston, greeting, desire the favor of Mr. and Mrs. Becker's company to dinner, together with their entire family, this day se'nnight, weather permitting."
Ernest was hereupon consulted, and stated that, in so far as the rain was concerned, they should in eight days be able to undertake the journey to Rockhouse. This assurance was not, however, entirely relied upon, for between this and then many an anxious eye was turned skywards, as if in search of some more conclusive evidence. Those who possess a garden--and he who has not, were it only a box of mignionette at the window--will often have observed, in consequence of absence or forgetfulness, that their flowers have begun to droop; they hasten to sprinkle them with water, then watch anxiously for signs of their revival. So both families continued unceasingly during these eight days to note the ever-varying modifications of the clouds.
At length the much wished-for day arrived; the morning broke with a blaze of sunshine, and though hidden with a dense mist, the ground was sufficiently hardened to bear their weight. Wolston awaited his guests at a bridge of planks that had been thrown across the Jackal River, where he and Willis had erected a sort of triumphal arch of mangoe leaves and palm branches. Here Becker and his family were welcomed, as if the one party had just arrived from Tobolsk, and the other from Chandernagor, after an absence of ten years.
Another warm reception awaited them at Rockhouse, where an abundant repast was already spread in the gallery. Mrs. Becker had often intended to work herself a pair of gloves, but the increasing demand for stockings had hitherto prevented her. She was pleased, therefore, on sitting down to dinner, to discover a couple of pairs under her plate, with her own initials embroidered upon them.
"Ah," said she, "I was almost afraid I had lost my daughters, but I have found them again."
After dinner the girls showed her a quantity of cotton they had spun, which proved that, though they might have been dull, they had, at least, been industrious.
"Mary span the most of it," said Sophia; "but you know, Mrs. Becker, she is the biggest."
"Oh, then," said Jack, "the power of spinning depends upon the bulk of the spinner?"
"Oh, Master Jack, I thought you had been ill, that you had not commenced quizzing us before."
"Never mind him, Soffy," said her father; "to quote Hudibras,
"There's nothing on earth hath so perfect a phiz, As not to give birth to a passable quiz."
Here Willis led in the chimpanzee, who made a grimace to the assembled company.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen," said Willis, "Jocko is about to show you the progress he has made in splicing and bracing."
"Good!" said Becker, "you have been able to make something of him, then?"
"You will see presently. Jocko, bring me a plate."
Hereupon the chimpanzee seized a bottle of Rockhouse malaga, and filled a glass.
"He has erred on the safe side there," said Jack, drily.
"Well," added Willis, laughing, "we must let that pass. Jocko," said he, assuming a sententious tone, "I asked you for a plate."
The chimpanzee looked at him, hesitated a moment, then seized the glass, and drank the contents off at a single draught. A box on the ears then sent him gibbering into a corner.
"Your servant," remarked Mrs. Wolston, "has been taking lessons from Dean Swift as well as yourself, Willis."
"I will serve him out for that, the swab; he does not play any of those tricks when we are alone. I must admit, however, that I am generally in the habit of helping myself."
Here attention was called to the parrot, who was screaming out lustily, "I love Mary, I love Sophia."
"Holloa," exclaimed Fritz, "Polly loves everybody now, does she?"
"Well, you see," replied Sophia, "I grew tired of hearing him scream always that he loved my sister, so by means of a little coaxing, and a good deal of sugar, I got him to love me too."
The poultry were next mustered for the inspection of their old masters. These did not consist of the ordinary domestic fowls alone; amongst them were a beautiful flamingo, some cranes, bustards, and a variety of tame tropical birds. With the fowls came the pigeons, which were perching about them in all directions.
"We are now something like the court of France in the fourteenth century," said Wolston.
"How so?" inquired Becker.
"In the reign of Charles V., they were obliged to place a trellis at the windows of the Palace of St. Paul to prevent the poultry from invading the dining room."
"Rural anyhow," observed Jack.
"Of course, most other features of the palace were in unison with this primitive state of matters. The courtiers sat on stools. There was only one chair in the palace, that was the arm-chair of the king, which was covered with red leather, and ornamented with silk fringes."
"So that we may console ourselves with the reflection, that we are as comfortable here as kings were at that epoch in Europe," remarked Ernest.
"Yes; historians report, that when Alphonso V. of Portugal went to Paris to solicit the aid of Louis XI. against the King of Arragon, who had taken Castile from him, the French monarch received him with great honor, and endeavored to make his stay as agreeable as possible."
"Reviews, I suppose, feasts, tournaments, spectacles, and so forth."
"A residence was assigned him in the Rue de Prouvaires, at the house of one Laurent Herbelot, a grocer."
"What! amongst dried peas and preserved plums?"
"Precisely; but the house of Herbelot might then have been one of the most commodious buildings in all Paris. Alphonso was afterwards conducted to the palace, where he pleaded his cause before the king. Next day he was entertained at the archiepiscopal residence, where he witnessed the induction of a doctor in theology. The day after that a procession to the university was organized, which passed under the grocer's windows."
"These were singular marvels to entertain a king withal," said Jack.
"Such were the amusements peculiar to the epoch. It must be observed that the Louis in question was somewhat close-fisted, and rarely drew his purse-strings unless he was certain of a good interest for his money. But courts in those days were very simple and frugal. The sumptuary laws of Philip le Bel (1285) had fixed supper at three dishes and a lard soup. The king's own dinner was likewise limited to three dishes."
"These three dishes might, however, have yielded a better repast than the fifty-two saucers of the Chinese," remarked Jack.
"No one could obtain permission to give his wife four dresses a year, unless he had an income of six thousand francs."
"What business had the laws to interfere with these things, I should like to know?" inquired Mrs. Wolston.
"Those who possessed two thousand francs income were only allowed to wear one dress a year, the cloth for which was not permitted to exceed tenpence a yard; but ladies of rank could go as high as fifteen pence."
"Philip le Bel must have been an old woman," insisted Mrs. Wolston.
"No private citizen was permitted to use a carriage, and such persons were likewise interdicted the use of flambeaux."
"They were permitted to break their necks at all events, that is something."
"In England, the same primitive simplicity prevailed; Queen Elizabeth is said to have breakfasted on a gallon of ale, her dining-room floor was strewn every day with fresh straw or rushes, and she had only one pair of silk stockings in her entire wardrobe."
"At the same time," observed Ernest, "these usages stand in singular contradiction to those that prevailed at an earlier age. The supper of Lucullus rarely cost him less than thirty thousand francs, and he could entertain five and twenty thousand guests. Six citizens of Rome possessed a great part of Africa. Domitius had an estate in France of eighty thousand acres."
"When Nero went to Baize he was accompanied by a thousand chariots and two thousand mules caparisoned with silver. Poppaea followed him with five hundred she asses to furnish milk for her bath. Cicero purchased a dining-room table that cost him a million sesterces, or about two hundred thousand francs. I can understand the progress of civilization, and I can also understand civilization remaining stationary for a given period; but I cannot understand why a citizen of ancient Rome should be able to lodge twenty-five thousand men, whilst a king of France could scarcely keep the ducks from waddling about his apartments, and a queen of England could fare no better than a ploughman."
"If," replied Frank, "there were no other criterion of civilization than luxury and riches, you would have good grounds for surprise; but such is not the case. Between ancient and modern times, Christianity arose, and that has tended in some degree to keep down the ostentation of the rich, and to augment, at the same time, the comforts of the poor. In place of the heroes, Hercules and Achilles, we have had the apostles Peter and Paul; so Luther and Calvin have been substituted for Semiramis and Nero. Pride has given place to charity, and corruption to virtue."
"Would that it were so, Frank," continued Ernest. "Christianity has, doubtless, effected many beneficial changes, and produced many able men; but in this last respect antiquity has not been behind. It has also its sages: Thales, Socrates, and Pythagoras, for example."
"True," replied Frank, "antiquity has produced some virtuous men, but their virtue was ideal, and their creed a dream."
"And the Stoics?"
"The Stoics despised suffering, and Christians resign themselves to its chastisements; this constitutes one of the lines of demarcation between ancient and modern theology."
"But there were many signal instances of virtue manifested in ancient times."
"Yes; but for the most part, it was either exaggerated or false; unyielding pride, obstinate courage, implacable resentment of injuries. Errors promenaded in robes under the porticos. Ambition was honored in Alexander, suicide in Cato, and assassination in Brutus."
"But what say you to Plato?"
"The immolation of ill-formed children, and of those born without the permission of the laws, prosecution of strangers and slavery; such were the basis of his boasted republic, and the gospel of his philosophy."
"Why, then, are these men held up as models for our imitation?"
"Because they are distant and dead; likewise, because they were, in many respects, great and wise, considering the paganism and darkness with which they were surrounded. Life was then only sacred to the few; the many were treated as beasts of burden. The Emperor Claudian even felt bound to issue an edict prohibiting slaves from being slain when they were old and feeble."
"Which leaves a margin for us to suppose that they might be slain when they were young and strong," observed Jack.
"By the constitution of Constantine certain cases were defined, where a master might suspend his slave by the feet, have him torn by wild beasts, or tortured by slow fire."
"Does slavery and its horrors not still exist, for example, in Russia and the United States of America?"
"Slavery does exist, to the great disgrace of modern civilization, in the countries you mention; but, so far as I am aware, its horrors are not recognized by the laws."
"There, Mr. Frank," said Wolston, "I am very sorry to be under the necessity of contradicting you. I have visited the slave states of North America, and have witnessed atrocities perhaps less brutal, but not less heart-rending, than those you mention."
"But do the laws recognize them?"
"Yes, tacitly; the testimony of the slaves themselves is not received as evidence."
"Why do a people that call their county a refuge for the down-trodden nations of Europe suffer such abominations?"
"Well, according to themselves, it is entirely a question of the almighty dollar. If there were no slaves, the swamps and morasses of the south could not be cultivated. It has been found that the negro will dance, and sing, and starve, but he will not work in the fields when free. Besides, they assert, that the slaves are generally well cared for, and that it is only a few detestable masters that beat them cruelly."
"Then, at all events, dollars are preferred to humanity by the United States men, in spite of their vaunted emblems--liberty and equality."
"Quite so. In all matters of internal policy, the dollar reigns supreme."
"Admitting," continued Frank, "that the evils of slavery may exist in a section of the American Union, and amongst the barbarous hordes of Russia, these evils are trifling in comparison with others that stain the annals of antiquity. We are told that a hundred and twenty persons applied to Otho to be rewarded for killing Galba. That so many men should contend for the honor of premeditated murder, is sufficiently characteristic of the epoch. There was then no corruption, no brutal passion, that had not its temple and its high priest. In the midst of all this wickedness and vice there appeared a man, poor and humble, who accomplished what no man ever did before, and what no man will ever do again--he founded a moral and eternal civilization. Judaism and the religion of Zoroaster were overthrown. The gods of Tyre and Carthage were destroyed. The beliefs of Miltiades and of Pericles, of Scipio and Seneca, were disavowed. The thousands that flocked annually to worship the Eleusinian Ceres ceased their pilgrimage. Odin and his disciples have all perished. The very language of Osiris, which was afterwards spoken by the Ptolemies, is no longer known to his descendants. The paganisms which still exist in the East are rapidly yielding to the march of western intelligence. Christianity alone, amidst all these ring and fallen fabrics, retains its original vitality, for, like its author, it is imperishable."
"It is a curious thing what we call conversation," observed Mrs. Wolston. "No sooner is one subject broached than another is introduced; and we go on from one thing to another until the original idea is lost sight of. Leaving the palace of Charles V., to go with the King of Portugal to a grocer's shop in some street or other of Paris, we cross the Alps, the Himalaya, and the Atlantic. Lucullus, Nero, Achilles, Peter, Paul, Tyre and Sidon, Semiramis and Elizabeth--queens, saints, and philosophers, are all passed in review, and why? Because the pigeons put my husband in mind of the Palace of St. Paul!"
"No wonder," observed Jack; "these pigeons are carriers, and naturally suggest wandering."
Once more seated round the table, Fritz, observing that the misunderstanding between Willis and the chimpanzee still continued, thrust a plate into the hand of the latter, and pointed with his finger to Willis. This time Jocko obeyed, for the language was intelligible, and he went and placed the plate before his master.
"Ho, ho!" cried Willis, "so you have come to your senses at last, have you? Well, that saves you an extra lesson to-morrow, you lubber you."
"He takes rather long to obey your orders, though, Willis; it is rather awkward to wait an hour for anything you ask for. What system do you pursue in educating him--the Pestalozzian or the parochial?"
"We follow the system in fashion aboard ship," replied Willis.
"And what does that consist of?"
"A rope's end."
"Oh, then, you are an advocate for the birch, are you?" said Wolston; "it is, doubtless, a very good thing when moderately and judiciously administered. That puts me in mind of the missionary and the king of the Kuruman negroes."
"A tribe of Southern Africa, is it not?"
"Yes, the missionary and the king were great friends. The king not only permitted him to baptize his subjects, but offered to whip them all into Christianity in a week. This summary mode of proselytism did not, however, coincide with the Englishman's ideas, and he refused the offer, although the king insisted that it was the only kind of argument that could ever reach their understandings."
The day at length drew to a close, and, though no one asked the time yet all felt that the moment of departure was approaching; whether they were willing to go was doubtful, but at they were loth to depart was certain.
"It is time to return now," said Becker, rising.
"There are some clouds in the distance that bode no good."
"Nothing more than a little rain at worst," said Jack.
"And your mother?" inquired Decker.
"Oh! we can make a palanquin for her."
"Your plan, Jack, is not particularly bright; it puts me in mind of some genius or other that took shelter in the water to keep out of the wet."
"Very odd," said Jack, "we are always wishing for rain, and when it comes, we do all we can to keep out of its way."
"That is, because we are neither green pease nor gooseberries," said Ernest, drily.
"True, brother; and as the rain is your affair, perhaps you will be good enough to delay it for an hour or so."
"I am sorry on my own account, as well as yours, that I have not yet discovered the art of controlling the skies."
Here Fritz whispered a few words in his mother's ear, that called up one of those ineffable smiles that the maternal heart alone can produce.
"Well," said Mrs. Becker, "if you think so, deliver the message yourself."
"Mrs. Wolston," said Fritz, "I am charged to invite you and your family to Falcon's Nest this day week."
"The invitation is accepted, unless my daughters have any objections to urge."
"How can you fancy such a thing, mamma?" said both girls.
"The fact is, that my daughters have got such a dread of cold water, that they dread to wet the soles of their shoes, unless one or other of you gentlemen is within hail."
"Mamma does so love to tease us," said Mary; "we are afraid of nothing but putting you to inconvenience."
"Well, in that case, we shall be at Falcon's Nest on the appointed day, unless the roads are positively submerged."
"In that case," said Jack, "a line of canoes will be placed upon the highway, between the two localities."
As the prospect of a prize incites the young scholar to increased exertion--as the prospect of worldly honors urges the ambitious man on in his career--as the oasis cheers the weary traveller on his journey through the desert, and makes him forget hunger and thirst--as the dreams of comfort and home warm the blood of a wayfarer amongst snow and ice--as hope smooths the ruggedness of poverty and softens the calamities of adversity, so the prospect of meeting again mitigates the regrets of parting.