Willis the Pilot by Johanna Spyri
Allotment of Quarters--A Horse Marine--Travelling Plants--Change of Dynasty in England--A Woman's Kingdom--Sheep converted into Chops--Resurrection of the Fried Fish--A Secret.
After some days more of anxious but fruitless expectation, it was finally concluded that either the Nelson had sailed for the Cape, or, as Willis would have it, she had gone to that unexplored and dread land where there were neither poles nor equator, and whence no mariner was ever known to return. It was necessary, therefore, to make arrangements for the surplus population of the colony--whether for a time or for ever, it was then impossible to say. At first sight, it might appear easy enough to provide accommodation for the eleven individuals that constituted the colony of New Switzerland. It is true that land might have been marked off, and each person made sovereign over a territory as large as some European kingdoms; but these sovereignties would have resembled the republic of St. Martin--there would have been no subjects. What, then, would they have governed? it may be asked. Themselves, might be answered; and it is said to be a far more difficult task to govern ourselves than to rule others.
Though space was ample enough as regards the colony in general, it was somewhat limited as regards detail. To live pele-mele in Rockhouse was entirely out of the question. Independently of accommodation, a thousand reasons of propriety opposed such an arrangement. Whether or not there might be another cave in the neighborhood, hollowed out by Nature, was not known; if there were, it had still to be discovered. Chance would not be chance, if it were undeviating and certain in its operations. To consign the Wolstons to Falcon's Nest or Prospect Hill, and leave them there alone, even though under the protection of Willis, could not be thought of; they knew nothing of the dangers that would surround them, and as yet they were ignorant of the topography of the island. It was, therefore, requisite that both families should continue in proximity, so as to aid each other in moments of peril, but without, at the same time, outraging propriety, or shackling individual freedom of action. Under ordinary circumstances, these difficulties might have been solved by taking apartments on the opposite side of the street, or renting a house next door. But, alas! the blessings of landlords and poor-rates had not yet been bestowed on the island.
One day after dinner, when these points were under consideration, Willis, who was accustomed to disappear after each meal, no one knew why or whereto, came and took his place amongst them under the gallery.
"As for myself," said the Pilot, "I do not wish to live anywhere. Since I am in your house, Mr. Becker, and cannot get away honestly for a quarter of an hour, I must of course remain; but as for becoming a mere dependant on your bounty, that I will not suffer."
"What you say there is not very complimentary to me," said Mr. Wolston.
"Your position, Mr. Wolston, is a very different thing: besides, you are an invalid and require attention, whilst I am strong and healthy, for which I ought to be thankful."
"You are not in my house," replied Becker "any more than I am in yours; the place we are in is a shelter provided by Providence for us all, and I venture to suppose that such a host is rich enough to supply all our wants. I am only the humble instrument distributing the gifts that have been so lavishly bestowed on this island."
"What you say is very kind and very generous," added Willis, "but I mean to provide for myself--that is my idea."
"And not a bad one either," continued Becker; "but how? You are welcome here to do the work for four--if you like; and then, supposing you eat for two, I will be your debtor, not you mine."
"Work! and at what? walking about with a rifle on my shoulder; airing myself, as I am doing now under your gallery, in the midst of flowers, on the banks of a river: or opening my mouth for quails to jump down my throat ready roasted--would you call that work?"
"Look there, Willis--what do you see?"
"Well, suppose, by way of a beginning, I were to introduce you to a fine live bear, with claws and tusks to match, ready to spring on you, having as much right to your skin as you have to his--now, were I to say to you, I want that animal's skin, to make a soft couch similar to the one you see yonder, would you call that work?"
"Certainly, Mr. Becker."
"Very good, then; it is in the midst of such labors that we pass our lives. Before we fell comfortably asleep on feather beds, those formidable bones which you see in our museum were flying in the air; the cup which I now hold in my hand was a portion of the clay on which you sit; the canoe with which you ran away the other day was a live seal; the hats that we wear, were running about the fields in the form of angola rabbits. So with everything you see about you; for fifteen years, excepting the Sabbath, which is our day of rest and recreation as well as prayer, we have never relapsed from labor, and you are at liberty to adopt a similar course, if you feel so disposed."
"No want of variety," said Jack; "if you do not like the saw-pit, you can have the tannery."
"Neither are very much in my line," replied Willis.
"What then do you say to pottery?"
"I have broken a good deal in my day."
"Yes, but there is a difference between breaking it and making it."
"What appears most needful," remarked Fritz, "is, three or four acres of fresh land, to double our agricultural produce."
"Is land dear in these parts?" inquired Mrs. Wolston, smiling.
"It is not to be had for nothing, madam; there is the trouble of selecting it."
"And the labor of rendering it productive," added Ernest.
"But how do you manage for a lawyer to convey it?"
"I was advising Ernest to adopt that profession," said Mrs. Becker; "wills and contracts would be in harmony with his studious temperament."
"At present, the question before us," said Becker, "is the allotment of quarters; in the meantime, Mr. and Mrs. Wolston, with the young ladies, will continue to occupy our room."
"No, no," said Wolston "that would be downright expropriation."
"In that case the matter comes within the sphere of our lawyer, and I therefore request his advice."
To this Ernest replied, by slowly examining his pockets; after this operation was deliberately performed, he said, in a nisi prius tone, "That he had forgotten his spectacles, and consequently that it was impossible for him to look into the case in the way its importance demanded, otherwise he was quite of the same opinion as his learned brother--his father, he meant."
"And what if we refuse?" said Mrs. Wolston.
"If you refuse, Mrs. Wolston, there is only one other course to adopt."
"And what is that, Master Frank?"
"Why, simply this," and rising, he cried out lustily, "John, call Mrs. Wolston's carriage."
"Ah, to such an argument as that, there can be no reply; so I see you must be permitted to do what you like with us."
"Very good," continued Becker; "then there is one point decided: my wife and I will occupy the children's apartment."
"And the children," said Jack, "will occupy the open air. For my own part, I have no objection: that is a bedroom exactly to my taste."
"Spacious," remarked Ernest.
"Well-aired," suggested Fritz.
"Hangings of blue, inlaid with stars of gold," observed Frank.
"Any thing else?" inquired Becker.
"No, father, I believe the extent of accommodation does not go beyond that."
"Therefore I have decided upon something less vast, but more comfortable for you; you will go every night to our villa of Falcon's Nest."
"On horseback, if you like and under the direction of Willis, whom I name commander-in-chief of the cavalry."
"Of the cavalry!" cried the sailor; "what! a pilot on horseback?"
"Do not be uneasy, Willis," replied Jack, "we have no horses."
"Ah, well, that alters the case."
"But then we have zebras and ostriches."
"Ostriches! worse and worse."
"Say not so, good Willis; when once you have tried Lightfoot or Flyaway, you would never wish to travel otherwise: they run so fast that the wind is fairly distanced, and scarcely give us time to breathe--it is delightful."
"Thank you, but I would rather try and get the canoe to travel on land."
"Ah, Willis," said Fritz, "that would be an achievement that would do you infinite credit--if you only succeed."
"Will you allow me to make a request, Mrs. Becker?"
"Listen to Willis," said Jack, "he has an idea."
"The request I have to urge is, that you will permit me to encamp on Shark's Island, and there establish a lighthouse for the guidance of the Nelson, in case she should return."
"What! the commander-in-chief of cavalry on an island?"
"No, not of the cavalry, but of the fleet; it is only necessary for Mr. Becker to change my position into that of an admiral, which will not give him much extra trouble."
"I shall do so with pleasure, Willis."
"In that case, since I am an admiral, the first thing I shall do, is to pardon myself for the faults I committed whilst I was a pilot."
"Capital!" said Ernest, "that puts me in mind of Louis XII., who, on ascending the throne, said that it was not for the King of France to revenge the wrongs of the Duke of Orleans."
"What, then, is to become of the boys? I intended to make you their compass--on land, of course."
"The boys," cried the latter, "are willing to enlist as seamen, and accompany the admiral on his cruise."
"You will spin yarns for us, Willis, will you not?"
"Well, my lads, if you want a sleeping dose, I will undertake to do that."
"But there are objections to this arrangement," Mrs. Becker hastily added.
"What are they, mother?"
"In the first place, a storm might arise some fine night--one of those dreadful hurricanes that continue several days, like the one that terrified us so much lately--and then all communication would be cut off between us."
"You could always see one another."
"How so, Willis?"
"From a distance--with the telescope."
"Then," continued Mrs. Becker, "you would be a prey to famine, for though the telescope, good Master Willis, might enable you to see our dinner--from a distance--I doubt whether that would prevent you dying of starvation."
"We might easily guard against that, by taking over a sufficient quantity of provisions with us every night, and bringing them back next morning."
"But could you carry over my kisses, Willis, and distribute them amongst my children every morning and evening, like rations of rice?"
"If the arrangement will really make you uneasy, Mrs. Becker, I give it up," said Willis, polishing with his arm the surface of his oil-skin sou'-wester.
"Not at all, Willis. It is for me to give up my objections. Besides, I observe Miss Sophia staring at me with her great eyes; she will never forgive me for tormenting her sweetheart."
"Ah! since I have been staring at you, I have only now to eat you up like the wolf in Little Red Ridinghood," and in a moment her slender arms were clasped round Mrs. Becker's neck.
"Good," said Becker, "there is another point settled--temporarily."
"In Europe," observed Wolston, "there is nothing so durable as the temporary."
"In Europe, yes, but not here. To-morrow morning we shall select a tree near Falcon's Nest, and in eight days you shall be permanently housed in an aerial tenement close to ours, so that we may chat to each other from our respective balconies."
"That will be a castle in the air a little more real than those I have built in Spain."
"Then you have been in Spain, papa?"
"Every one has been less or more in the Spain I refer to. Sophy--it is the land of dreams."
"And of castanets," remarked Jack.
"Then my sweetheart will be alone on his island, like an exile?"
"No, Miss Sophia, we are incapable of such ingratitude. After enjoying the hospitality of Willis in Shark's Island, he will surely deign to accept ours at Falcon's Nest; so, whether here or there, he shall always have four devoted followers to keep him company."
The Pilot shook Fritz by the hand, at the same time nearly dislocating his arm.
"I wonder why God, who is so good, has not made houses grow of themselves, like pumpkins and melons?" said Ernest.
"Rather a lazy idea that," said his father; "our great Parent has clearly designed that we should do something for ourselves; he has given us the acorn whence we may obtain the oak."
"Nevertheless, there are uninhabited countries which are gorged with vegetation--the territory we are in, for example."
"True; but still no plant has ever sprung up anywhere without a seed has been planted, either by the will of God or by the hands of man. With regard, however, to the distribution of vegetation in a natural state, that depends more upon the soil and climate than anything else; wherever there is a fertile soil and moist air, there seeds will find their way."
"The seeds of a great many plants are furnished with downy filaments, which act as wings; these are taken up by the wind and carried immense distances; others are inclosed in an elastic shell, from which, when ripe, they are ejected with considerable force."
"The propagation of plants that have wings or elastic shells may, in that way, be accounted for; but there are some seeds that fall, by their own weight, exactly at the foot of the vegetable kingdom that produces them."
"It is often these that make the longest voyages."
"By what conveyance, then?"
"Well, my son, for a philosopher, I cannot say that your knowledge is very profound; seeds that have no wings borrow them."
"Not from the ant, I presume?"
"No, not exactly; but from the quail, the woodcock, the swallow, and a thousand others, that are apparently more generous than the poor ant, to which AEsop has given a reputation for avarice that it will have some trouble to shake off. The birds swallow the seeds, many of which are covered with a hard, horny skin, that often resists digestion; these are carried by the inhabitants of the air across rivers, seas, and lakes, and are deposited by them in the neighborhood of their nests--it may be on the top of a mountain, or in the crevice of a rock."
"True, I never thought of that."
"There are a great many philosophers who know more about the motions of stars than these humbler operations of Nature."
"You are caught there," said Jack.
"There are philosophers, too, who can do nothing but ridicule the knowledge of others."
"Caught you there," retaliated Ernest.
"It was in this way that a bird of the Moluccas has restored the clove tree to the islands of this archipelago, in spite of the Dutch, who destroyed them everywhere, in order that they might enjoy the monopoly of the trade."
"Still, I must fall back upon my original idea; by sowing a brick, we ought to reap a wall."
"And if a wall, a house," suggested another of the young men.
"Or if a turret, a castle," proposed a third.
"Or a hall to produce a palace," remarked the fourth.
"There are four wishes worthy of the four heads that produced them! What do you think of those four great boys, Mrs. Wolston?"
"Well, madam, as they are wishing, at any rate they may as well wish that chinchillas and marmots wore their fur in the form of boas and muffs, that turkeys produced perigord pies, and that the fish were drawn out of the sea ready roasted or boiled."
"Or that the sheep walked about in the form of nicely grilled chops," suggested Becker.
"And you, young ladies, what would you wish?"
Mary, who was now beyond the age of dolls, and was fast approaching the period of young womanhood, felt that it was a duty incumbent upon her to be more reserved than her sister, and rarely took part in the conversation, unless she was directly addressed, ceased plying her needle, and replied, smiling,
"I wish I could make some potent elixir in the same way as gooseberry wine, that would restore sick people to health, then I would give a few drops to my father, and make him strong and well, as he used to be."
"Thank you for the intention, my dear child."
"And you, Miss Sophia? It is your turn."
"I wish that all the little children were collected together, and that every papa and mamma could pick out their own from amongst them."
Here Willis took out his pocket-handkerchief and appeared to be blowing his nose, it being an idea of his that a sailor ought not to be caught with a tear in his eye.
"Now then, Willis, we must have a wish from you."
"I wish three things: that there had not been a hurricane lately, that canoes could be converted into three masters, and that Miss Sophia may be Queen of England."
"Granted," cried Jack.
And laying hold of a wreath of violets that the young girl had been braiding, he solemnly placed it on her head.
"You will make her too vain," said Mrs. Wolston.
"Ah mamma, do not scold," and gracefully taking the crown from her own fair curls, she placed it on the silvery locks of her mother; "I abdicate in your favor, and, sweetheart, I thank you for placing our dynasty on the throne. Mary, you are a princess."
"Yes," she replied, "and here is my sceptre," holding up her spindle.
"Well answered, my daughter, that is a woman's best sceptre, and her kingdom is her house."
"Our conversation," said Becker, "is like those small threads of water which, flowing humbly from the hollow of a rock, swell into brooks, then become rivers, and, finally, lose themselves in the ocean."
"It was Ernest that led us on."
"Well, it is time now to get back to your starting-point again. God has said that we shall earn our bread by the sweat of our brow, and consequently that our enjoyments should be the result of our own industry; that is the reason that venison is given to us in the form of the swift stag, and palaces in the form of clay; man is endowed with reason, and may, by labor, convert all these blessings to his use."
"Your notion," said Mr. Wolston, "of drawing the fish out of the sea ready cooked, puts me in mind of an incident of college life which, with your permission, I will relate."
"Oh yes, papa, a story!"
"There was at Cambridge, when I was there, a young man, who, instead of study and sleep, spent his days and nights in pistol practice and playing on the French horn, much to the annoyance of an elderly maiden lady, who occupied the apartments that were immediately under his own."
"These are inconveniences that need not be dreaded here."
"Our police are too strict."
"And our young men too well-bred," added Mrs. Wolston.
"Not only that," continued Mr. Wolston, "this young student, who never thought of study, had a huge, shaggy Newfoundland dog, and the old lady possessed a chubby little pug, which she was intensely fond of; now, when these two brutes happened to meet on the stairs, the large one, by some accident or other, invariably sent the little one rolling head over heels to the bottom; and, much to the horror of the old lady, her favorite, that commenced its journey down stairs with four legs, had sometimes to make its way up again with three."
"I always understood that dogs were generous animals, and would not take advantage of an animal weaker than themselves; our dogs would not have acted so."
"Well, perhaps the dog was not quite so much to blame in these affairs as its master; besides, in making advances to its little friend, it might not have calculated its own force."
"Yes, and perhaps might have been sorry afterwards for the mischief it had done."
"Very likely; still the point was never clearly explained, and, whether or no, the elderly lady could not put up with this sort of thing any longer; she complained so often and so vigorously, that her troublesome neighbor was served in due form with a notice to quit. The young scapegrace was determined to be revenged in some way on the party who was the cause of his being so summarily ejected from his quarters. Now, right under his window there was a globe belonging to the old lady, well filled with good-sized gold fish. His eye by chance having fallen upon this, and spying at the same time his fishing-rod in a corner, the coincidence of vision was fatal to the gold-fish; they were very soon hooked up, rolled in flour, fried, and gently let down again one by one into the globe."
"I should like to have seen the old lady when she first became aware of this transformation!"
"Well, one of the fish had escaped, and was floating about, evidently lamenting the fate of its finny companions."
"It was very cruel," observed Mary.
"Elderly ladies who have no family and live alone are very apt to bestow upon animals the love and affection that is inherent in us all."
"Which is very much to be deprecated."
"Why so, Master Frank?"
"Are there not always plenty of poor and helpless human beings upon whom to bestow their love? are there not orphans and homeless creatures whom they might adopt?"
"There are; but it requires wealth for such benevolences, and the goddess Fortune is very capricious; whilst one must be very poor indeed that cannot spare a few crumbs of bread once a day. Besides, admitting that this mania is blamable when carried to excess, still it must be respected, for it behoves us to reverence age even in its foibles."
Frank, whose nature was so very susceptible, that a single grain of good seed soon ripened into a complete virtue, bent his head in token of acquiescence.
"Now the old lady loved these gold-fish as the apples of her eyes, and her astonishment and grief, in beholding the state they were in, was indescribable."
"And yet it was a loss that might have been easily repaired."
"Ah, you think so, Jack, do you? If you were to lose Knips, would the first monkey that came in your way replace him in your affections?"
"That is a very different thing--I brought Knips up."
"No; it is precisely the same thing. She had the fish when they were very small, had seen them grow, spoke to them, gave each of them a name, and believed them to be endowed with a supernatural intelligence."
"Therefore, I contend the student was a savage."
"Not he, my friend, he was one of the best-hearted fellows in the world: hasty, ardent, inconsiderate, he resisted commands and threats, but yielded readily to a tear or a prayer. As soon as he saw the sorrowful look of the old woman, he regretted what he had done, and undertook to restore the inhabitants of the globe to life."
"With what sort of magic wand did he propose to do that?"
"All the inhabitants of the house had collected round the old lady and her globe, endeavoring to console her, and at the same time trying to account for the phenomenon; some ascribed the transformation to lightning, others went so far as to suggest witchcraft. Our scapegrace now joined the throng, took the globe in his hands, gravely examined his victims, and declared, with the utmost coolness that they were not dead. 'Not dead, sir! are you sure?' 'Confident, madam; it is only a lethargy, a kind of coma or temporary transformation, that will be gradually shaken off; I have seen many cases of the same kind, and, if proper care be taken as to air, repose, and diet, particularly as regards the latter, your fish will be quite well again to-morrow.'"
"Did she believe that?"
"One readily believes what one wishes to be true; besides, in twenty-four hours, all doubt on the subject would be at an end; added to which, the young man was ostensibly a student of medicine, and had the credit in the house of having cured the washerwoman's canary of a sore throat."
"Well, how did he manage about the fish?"
"Very simply; he went and bought some exactly the same size that were not in a lethargy; he then, at the risk of breaking his neck or being taken for a burglar, scaled the balcony, and substituted them for the defunct. Next morning, when he called to inquire after his patients, he found the old lady quite joyful."
"Had she no doubts as to their identity?"
"Well, one was a little paler and another was a trifle thinner, but she was easily persuaded that this difference might arise from their convalescence. The young man immediately became a great favorite; and the old lady would rather have shared her own apartments with him, than allow him to quit the house; he consequently remained."
"What, then, became of the pistols and the French horn?" inquired Jack.
"From that time on there sprung up a close friendship between the two; he was induced by her to convert his weapons of war into pharmacopoeas. Always, when she made some nice compound of jelly and cream, he had a share of it; he, on his side, scarcely ever passed her door without softening his tread; and both himself and his dog managed, eventually, to acquire the favor of the old lady's pug."
"He appears to have been one of those medical gentlemen WHO profess to cure every conceivable disease by one kind of medicine."
"And who generally contrive to remove both the disease and the patient at the same time."
"You mistake the individual altogether; he is now one of the most esteemed physicians in London, remarkable alike for his skill and benevolence. It is even strongly suspected by his friends that he is not a little indebted for his present eminent position to his first patients--the canary and the gold-fish."
It was now the usual hour for retiring to rest. After the evening prayer, which Mary and Sophia said alternately aloud, Willis and the four brothers prepared to start for Shark's Island, to pass their first night in the store-room and cattle-shed that had been erected there. Of course they could not expect to be so comfortable in such quarters as at Rockhouse or Falcon's Nest; but then novelty is to young people what ease is to the aged. Black bread appears delicious to those who habitually eat white; and we ourselves have seen high-bred ladies delighted when they found themselves compelled to dine in a wretched hovel of the Tyrol--true, they were certain of a luxurious supper at Inspruck. So grief breaks the monotony of joy, just as a rock gives repose to level plain.
Whilst the pinnace was gradually leaving the shore, loaded with mattresses and other movables adapted for a temporary encampment, Jack signalled a parting adieu to Sophia, and, putting his fingers to his lips, seemed to enjoin silence.
"All right, Master Jack," cried she.
"What is all this signalling about?" inquired Mrs. Wolston.
"A secret," said the young girl, leaping with joy; "I have a secret!"
"And with a young man? that is very naughty, miss."
"Oh, mamma, you will know it to-morrow."
"What if I wanted to know it to-night?"
"Then, mamma, if you insisted--that is--absolutely--"
"No, no, child, I shall wait till to-morrow; keep it till then--if you can."
"Sophia dear," said Mary to her sister, when their two heads, enveloped in snowy caps with an embroidered fringe, were reclining together on the same pillow, "you know I have always shared my bon-bons with you."
"In that case, make me a partner in your secret."
"Will you promise not to speak of it?"
"Yes, I promise."
"To no one?"
"To no one."
"Not even to the paroquette Fritz gave you?"
"No, not even to my paroquette."
"Well, it is very likely I shall speak about it in my dreams--you listen and find it out."
Like those delicate flowers that shrink when they are touched, each then turned to her own side; but it would have cost both too much not to have fallen asleep as usual, with their arms round each other's necks;--consequently this tiff soon blew over, and, after a prolonged chat, their lips finally joined in the concluding "Good-night."