Willis the Pilot by Johanna Spyri
The Queen's Doll--Rockhouse to Falcon's Nest--The Wind--Grasses--Admiral Homer--The Three Frogs--Oat Jelly--Esquimaux Astronomy--An Unknown.
Next morning, Sophia came running in with a sealed letter in her hand, which she opened and read as follows:--
"For my doll!" exclaimed Sophia angrily; "when did Jack find out that I had a doll?"
"Is that, then, your secret?" inquired her mother.
"Yes, mamma, Master Jack took a pigeon with him for the express purpose of playing me this trick."
"And what is worse, included yourself in the conspiracy. Dreadful!"
"Is it not--to speak of a young person of thirteen's doll?"
"Say nearer fourteen, my dear."
"Therefore, to punish your confederates, I shall fire a gun, and put a stop to their excursion," said Becker, turning to one of the six-pounders that flanked Rockhouse in the direction of the river.
"Clemency being one of the dearest rights of the royal prerogative," replied Sophia, "I shall pardon them, and I pray you not; to throw any obstacle in the way of their expedition."
"Very good, your Majesty; but there are state reasons which should be allowed to overrule the impulses of your heart; those gentlemen have forgotten that we were to go and lay the first stone, or rather to cut, to-day, the first branch of your aerial residence at Falcon's Nest."
Admiral Willis and his officers having obeyed the preconcerted signal, the whole party started on their land enterprise. One of the young men was harnessed to a sledge, containing saws, hatchets, a bamboo ladder that had formerly done duty as a staircase to the Nest, and everything else requisite for the contemplated project.
Jack had already started when Sophia called him back, and he hastily obeyed the summons.
"What are your Majesty's commands?"
"Oh, nothing particular, only should you meet my doll in company with your go-cart, be pleased to pay my respects to them." Saying this, she made a low curtsy, and turned her back upon him.
"Your Majesty's behests shall be obeyed," said Jack, and he ran off to rejoin the caravan.
The sad ravages of the tempest presented themselves as they proceeded; tall chestnuts lay stretched on the ground, and seemed, by their appearance, to have struggled hard with the storm.
"After all," inquired Frank, "what is the wind?"
"Wind is nothing more than air rushing in masses from one point to another."
"And what causes this commotion in the elements?"
"The equilibrium of the atmosphere is disturbed by a variety of actions;--the diurnal motion of the sun, whose rays penetrate the air at various points; absorption and radiation, which varies according to the nature of the soil and the hour of the day; the inequality of the solar heat, according to seasons and latitude; the formation and condensation of vapor, that absorbs caloric in its formation, and disengages it when being resolved into liquid."
"I never thought," remarked Willis, "that there were so many mysteries in a sou'-easter. Does it blow? is it on the starboard or larboard? was all, in fact, that I cared about knowing."
"In a word, the various circumstances that change the actual density of the air, making it more rarefied at one point than another, produce currents, the force and direction of which depend upon the relative position of hot and cold atmospheric beds. Again, the winds acquire the temperature and characteristics of the regions they traverse."
"That," observed Frank, "is like human beings; you may generally judge, by the language and manners of a man, the places that he is accustomed to frequent."
"There are hot and cold winds, wet and dry; then there are the trade winds."
"Ah, yes," cried Willis, "these are the winds to talk of, especially when sailing with them--that is, from east to west; but when your course is different, they are rather awkward affairs to get ahead of. The way to catch them is to sail from Peru to the Philippines."
"Or from Mexico to China."
"Yes, either will do; then there is no necessity for tacking, you have only to rig your sails and smoke your pipe, or go to sleep; you may, in that way, run four thousand leagues in three months."
"Stiff sailing that, Willis."
"Yes, Master Ernest, but it does not come up to your yarn about the stars, you recollect, ever so many millions of miles in a second!"
"The trade winds, I was going to observe," continued Becker, "that blow from the west coast of Africa, carry with them a stifling heat."
"That might be expected," remarked Frank, "since they pass over the hot sands of the desert."
"Well, can you tell me why the same wind is cooler on the east coast of America?"
"Because it has been refreshed on crossing the ocean that separates the two continents?"
"By taking a glass of grog on the way," suggested Willis.
"Yes; and so in Europe the north wind is cold because it carries, or rather consists of, air from the polar regions; and the same effect is produced by the south wind in the other hemisphere."
"It is for a like reason," suggested Ernest, "that the south wind in Europe, and particularly the south-west wind, is humid, and generally brings rain, because it is charged with vapor from the Atlantic Ocean."
"How is it, father, that the almanac makers can predict changes in the weather?"
"The almanac makers can only foresee one thing with absolute certainty, and that is, that there are always fools to believe what they say. A few meteorological phenomena may be predicted with tolerable accuracy; but these are few in number, and range within very narrow limits."
"Their predictions, nevertheless, sometimes turn out correct."
"Yes, when they predict by chance a hard frost on a particular day in January, it is just possible the prediction may be verified; out of a multitude of such prognostications a few may be successful, but the greater part of them fail. Their few successes, however, have the effect with weak minds of inspiring confidence, in defiance of the failures which they do not take the trouble to observe."
"At what rate does the wind travel?"
"The speed of the wind is very variable; when it is scarcely felt, the velocity does not exceed a foot a second; but it is far otherwise in the cases of hurricanes and tornados, that sweep away trees and houses.
"And sink his Majesty's ships," observed Willis.
"In those cases the wind sometimes reaches the velocity of forty-five yards in a second, or about forty leagues in an hour."
"Therefore," remarked Jack, "the wind is a blessing that could very well be dispensed with."
"Your conclusions, Jack, do not always do credit to your understanding. The wind re-establishes the equilibrium of the temperature, and purifies the air by dispersing in the mass exhalations that would be pernicious if they remained in one spot; it clears away miasma, it dissipates the smoke of towns, it waters some countries by driving clouds to them, it condenses vapor on the frozen summits of mountains, and converts it into rivers that cover the land with fruitfulness."
"It likewise fills the sails of ships and creates pilots," observed Willis.
"And brings about shipwrecks," remarked Jack.
"It conveys the pollen of flowers, and, as I had occasion to state the other day, sows the seeds of Nature's fields and forests. It is likewise made available by man in some classes of manufactures--mills, for example."
"And it causes the simoon," persisted Jack, "that lifts the sand of the desert and overwhelms entire caravans; how can you justify such ravages?"
"I do not intend to plead the cause of either hurricanes or simoons; but I contend that, if the wind sometimes terrifies us by disasters, we have, on the other hand, to be grateful for the infinite good it does. In it, as in all other phenomena of the elements, the evils are rare and special, whilst the good is universal and constant."
Fritz, as usual, with the dogs and his rifle charged, acted as pioneer for the caravan, now and then bringing down a bird, sometimes adding a plant to their collection, and occasionally giving them some information as to the state of the surrounding country.
"Father," said he, "I chased this quail into our corn-field; the grain is lying on the ground as if it had been passed over by a roller, but I am happy to say that it is neither broken nor uprooted."
"Now, Jack, do you see how gallantly the wind behaves, prostrating the strong and sparing the weak? If you had been charged with the safety of the grain, no doubt you would have placed it in the tops of the highest trees."
"Very likely; and, until taught by experience, everybody else would have done precisely the same thing."
"True; therefore in this, as in all other things, we should admire the wisdom of Providence, and mistrust our own."
"Whoever would have thought of trusting the staff of human life to such slender support as stalks of straw?"
"If grain had been produced by forests, these, when destroyed by war, burned down by imprudence, uprooted by hurricanes, or washed away by inundations, we should have required ages to replace."
"The fruits of trees are, besides, more liable to rot than those of grain; the latter have their flowers in the form of spikes, often bearded with prickly fibres, which not only protect them from marauders, but likewise serve as little roofs to shelter them from the rain; and besides, as Fritz has just told us, owing to the pliancy of their stalks, strengthened at intervals by hard knots and the spear-shaped form of their leaves, these plants escape the fury of the winds."
"That," said Willis, "is like a wretched cock-boat, which often contrives to get out of a scrape when all the others are swamped."
"Therefore," continued Becker, "their weakness is of more service to them than the strength of the noblest trees, and they are spread and multiplied by the same tempests that devastate the forests. Added to this, the species to which this class of plants belong--the grasses--are remarkably varied in their characteristics, and better suited than any other for universal propagation."
"Which was remarked by Homer," observed Ernest "who usually distinguishes a country by its peculiar fruit, but speaks of the earth generally as zeidoros, or grain-bearing."
"There, Willis," exclaimed Jack, "is another great admiral for you."
"An admiral, Jack?"
"It was he who led the combined fleets of Agamemnon, Diomedes, and others, to the city of Troy."
"Not in our time, I suppose?"
"How old are you, Willis?"
"In that case it was before you entered the navy."
"I know that there is a Troy in the United States, but I did not know it was a sea-port."
"There is another in France, Willis; but the Troy I mean is, or rather was, in Asia Minor, capital of Lesser Phrygia, sometimes called Ilion, its citadel bearing the name of Pergamos."
"Never heard of it," said Willis.
"To return to grain," continued Becker, laughing. "Nature has rendered it capable of growing in all climates, from the line to the pole. There is a variety for the humid soils of hot countries, as the rice of Asia; immense quantities of which are produced in the basin of the Ganges. There is another variety for marshy and cold climates--as a kind of oat that grows wild on the banks of the North American lakes, and of which the natives gather abundant harvests."
"God has amply provided for us all," said Frank.
"Other varieties grow best in hot, dry soils, as the millet in Africa, and maize or Indian corn in Brazil. In Europe, wheat is cultivated universally, but prefers rich lands, whilst rye takes more readily to a sandy soil; buckwheat is most luxuriant where most exposed to rain; oats prefer humid soils, and barley comes to perfection on rocky, exposed lands, growing well on the cold, bleak plains of the north. And, observe, that the grasses suffice for all the wants of man."
"Yes," observed Ernest, "with the straw are fed his sheep, his cows, his oxen, and his horses; with the seeds, he prepares his food and his drinks. In the north, grain is converted into excellent beer and ale, and spirits are extracted from it as strong as brandy."
"The Chinese obtain from rice a liquor that they prefer to the finest wines of Spain."
"That is because they have not yet tasted our Rockhouse malaga."
"Then of roasted oats, perfumed with vanilla, an excellent jelly may be made."
"Ah! we must get mamma to try that--it will delight the young ladies."
"And, no doubt, you will profit by the occasion to partake thereof yourself, Master Jack."
"Certainly; but I would not, for all that, seek to gratify my own appetite under pretence of paying a compliment to our friends."
"I know an animal," said Willis, "that, for general usefulness, beats grain all to pieces."
"Good! let us hear what it is, Willis."
"It is the seal of the Esquimaux; they live upon its flesh, and they drink its blood."
"I scarcely think," said Jack, "that I should often feel thirsty under such circumstances."
"The skin furnishes them with clothes, tents, and boats."
"Of which our canoe and life-preservers are a fair sample," said Fritz.
"The fat furnishes them with fire and candle, the muscles with thread and rope, the gut with windows and curtains, the bones with arrow heads and harness; in short, with everything they require."
"True, Willis, in so far as regards their degree of civilization, which is not very great, when we consider that they bury their sick whilst alive, because they are afraid of corpses; that they believe the sun, moon, and stars to be dead Esquimaux, who have been translated from earth to heaven."
Whilst chatting in this way, the party had imperceptibly arrived at Falcon's Nest, wherein they had not set foot for a fortnight previously.
Fritz went up first, and before the others had ascended, came running down again as fast as his legs would carry him.
"Father," he cried, in an accent of alarm, "there is a fresh litter of leaves up stairs, which has been recently slept upon, and I miss a knife that I left the last time we were here!"