Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
The winds at length were lulled, the sun shot his brilliant rays through the riven clouds, the rain ceased to fall--spring had come. No prisoners set at liberty could have felt more joy than we did as we stepped forth from our winter abode, refreshed our eyes with the pleasant verdure around us, and our ears with the merry songs of a thousand happy birds, and drank in the pure balmy air of spring.
Our plantations were thriving vigorously. The seed we had sown was shooting through the moist earth. All nature was refreshed.
Our nest was our first care: filled with leaves and broken and torn by the wind, it looked indeed dilapidated. We worked hard, and in a few days it was again habitable. My wife begged that I would now start her with the flax, and as early as possible I built a drying-oven, and then prepared it for her use; I also, after some trouble, manufactured a beetle-reel and spinning-wheel, and she and Franz were soon hard at work, the little boy reeling off the thread his mother spun.
I was anxious to visit Tentholm, for I feared that much of our precious stores might have suffered. Fritz and I made an excursion thither. The damage done to Falconhurst was as nothing compared to the scene that awaited us. The tent was blown to the ground, the canvas torn to rags, the provisions soaked, and two casks of powder utterly destroyed. We immediately spread such things as we hoped yet to preserve in the sun to dry.
The pinnace was safe, but our faithful tub-boat was dashed in pieces, and the irreparable damage we had sustained made me resolve to contrive some safer and more stable winter-quarters before the arrival of the next rainy season. Fritz proposed that we should hollow out a cave in the rock, and though the difficulties such an undertaking would present appeared almost insurmountable, I yet determined to make the attempt; we might not, I thought, hew out a cavern of sufficient size to serve as a room, but we might at least make a cellar for the more valuable and perishable of our stores.
Some days afterwards we left Falconhurst with the cart laden with a cargo of spades, hammers, chisels, pickaxes and crowbars, and began our undertaking. On the smooth face of the perpendicular rock I drew out in chalk the size of the proposed entrance, and then, with minds bent on success, we battered away.
Six days of hard and incessant toil made but little impression; I do not think that the hole would have been a satisfactory shelter for even Master Knips; but we still did not despair, and were presently rewarded by coming to softer and more yielding substance; our work progressed, and our minds were relieved.
On the tenth day, as our persevering blows were falling heavily, Jack, who was working diligently with a hammer and crowbar, shouted:
'Gone, father! Fritz, my bar has gone through the mountain!'
'Run round and get it,' laughed Fritz, 'perhaps it has dropped into Europe--you must not lose a good crowbar.'
'But, really, it is through; it went right through the rock; I heard it crash down inside. Oh, do come and see!' he shouted excitedly.
We sprang to his side, and I thrust the handle of my hammer into the hole he spoke of; it met with no opposition, I could turn it in any direction I chose. Fritz handed me a long pole; I tried the depth with that. Nothing could I feel. A thin wall, then, was all that intervened between us and a great cavern.
With a shout of joy, the boys battered vigorously at the rock; piece by piece fell, and soon the hole was large enough for us to enter. I stepped near the aperture, and was about to make a further examination, when a sudden rush of poisonous air turned me giddy, and shouting to my sons to stand off, I leaned against the rock.
When I came to myself I explained to them the danger of approaching any cavern or other place where the air has for a long time been stagnant. 'Unless air is incessantly renewed it becomes vitiated,' I said, 'and fatal to those who breathe it. The safest way of restoring it to its original state is to subject it to the action of fire; a few handfuls of blazing hay thrown into this hole may, if the place be small, sufficiently purify the air within to allow us to enter without danger.' We tried the experiment. The flame was extinguished the instant it entered. Though bundles of blazing grass were thrown in, no difference was made.
I saw that we must apply some more efficacious remedy, and sent the boys for a chest of signal-rockets we had brought from the wreck. We let fly some dozens of these fiery serpents, which went whizzing in and disappeared at apparently a vast distance from us. Some flew like radiant meteors round, lighted up the mighty circumference and displayed, as by a magician's wand, a sparkling glittering roof. They looked like avenging dragons driving a foul malignant fiend out of a beauteous palace.
We waited for a little while after these experiments, and I then again threw in lighted hay. It burned clearly; the air was purified.
Fritz and I enlarged the opening, while Jack, springing on his buffalo, thundered away to Falconhurst to bear the great and astonishing news to his mother.
Great must have been the effect of Jack's eloquence on those at home, for the timbers of the bridge were soon again resounding under the swift but heavy tramp of his steed; and he was quickly followed by the rest of our party in the cart.
All were in the highest state of excitement. Jack had stowed in the cart all the candles he could find, and we now, lighting these, shouldered our arms and entered. I led the way, sounding the ground as I advanced with a long pole, that we might not fall unexpectedly into any great hole or chasm.
Silently we marched--my wife, the boys, and even the dogs seeming overawed with the grandeur and beauty of the scene We were in a grotto of diamonds--a vast cave of glittering crystal; the candles reflected on the walls a golden light, bright as the stars of Heaven, while great crystal pillars rose from the floor like mighty trees, mingling their branches high above us and drooping in hundreds of stalactites, which sparkled and glittered with all the colours of the rainbow.
The floor of this magnificent palace was formed of hard, dry sand, so dry that I saw at once that we might safely take up our abode therein, without the slightest fear of danger from damp.
From the appearance of the brilliant crystals round about us, I suspected their nature. I tasted a piece. This was a cavern of rock-salt. There was no doubt about it--here was an unlimited supply of the best and purest salt!
But one thing detracted from my entire satisfaction and delight--large crystals lay scattered here and there, which, detached from the roof, had fallen to the ground; this, if apt to recur, would keep us in constant peril. I examined some of the masses and discovered that they had been all recently separated, and therefore concluded that the concussion of the air, occasioned by the rockets, had caused their fall. To satisfy ourselves, however, that there were no more pieces tottering above us, we discharged our guns from the entrance, and watched the effect.
Nothing more fell--our magnificent abode was safe. We returned to Falconhurst with minds full of wonder at our new discovery, and plans for turning it to the best possible advantage.
Nothing was now talked of but the new house, how it should be arranged, how it should be fitted up. The safety and comfort of Falconhurst, which had at first seemed so great, now dwindled away in our opinion to nothing; it should be kept up we decided merely as a summer residence, while our cave should be formed into a winter house and impregnable castle.
Our attention was now fully occupied with this new house. Light and air were to be admitted, so we hewed a row of windows in the rock, where we fitted the window-cases we had brought from the officers' cabins.
We brought the door, too, from Falconhurst, and fitted it in the aperture we had made. The opening in the trunk of the tree I determined to conceal with bark, as less likely to attract the notice of wild beasts or savages should they approach during our absence.
The cave itself we divided into four parts: in front, a large compartment into which the door opened, subdivided into our sitting, eating and sleeping apartments; the right-hand division, containing our kitchen and workshop, and the left our stables; behind all this, in the dark recess of the cave, was our storehouse and powder-magazine.
Having already undergone one rainy reason, we knew well its discomforts, and thought of many useful arrangements in the laying-out of our dwelling. We did not intend to be again smoke-dried; we, therefore, contrived a properly built fireplace and chimney; our stable arrangements, too, were better, and plenty of space was left in our workshop that we should not be hampered in even the most extensive operations.
Our frequent residence at Tentholm revealed to us several important advantages which we had not foreseen. Numbers of splendid turtles often came ashore to deposit their eggs in the sand, and their delicious flesh afforded us many a sumptuous meal. When more than one of these creatures appeared at a time, we used to cut off their retreat to the sea, and, turning them on their backs, fasten them to a stake, driven in close by the water's edge, by a cord passed through a hole in their shell. We thus had fresh turtle continually within our reach; for the animals throve well thus secured, and appeared in as good condition, after having been kept thus for several weeks, as others when freshly caught. Lobsters, crabs and mussels also abounded on the shore. But this was not all; an additional surprise awaited us.
As we were one morning approaching Tentholm, we were attracted by a most curious phenomenon. The waters out to sea appeared agitated by some unseen movement, and as they heaved and boiled, their surface, struck by the beams of the morning sun, seemed illuminated by flashes of fire.
Over the water where this disturbance was taking place hovered hundreds of birds, screaming loudly, which ever and anon would dart downwards, some plunging beneath the water, some skimming the surface. Then again they would rise and resume their harsh cries. The shining, sparkling mass then rolled onwards, and approached in a direct line our bay, followed by the feathered flock above. We hurried down to the shore to further examine this strange sight.
I was convinced as we approached that it was a shoal or bank of herrings.
No sooner did I give utterance to my conjecture, than I was assailed by a host of questions concerning this herring-bank, what it was, and what occasioned it.
'A herring-bank,' I said, 'is composed of an immense number of herrings swimming together. I can scarcely express to you the huge size of this living bank, which extends over a great area many fathoms deep. It is followed by numbers of great ravenous fish, who devour quantities of the herrings, while above hover birds, as you have just seen, ready to pounce down on stragglers near the top. To escape these enemies, the shoal makes for the nearest shore, and seeks safety in those shallows where the large fish cannot follow. But here it meets with a third great enemy.
'It may escape from the fish, and elude the vigilance of sharp-sighted birds, but from the ingenuity of man it can find no escape. In one year millions of these fish are caught, and yet the roes of only a small number would be sufficient to supply as many fish again.'
Soon our fishery was in operation. Jack and Fritz stood in the water with baskets, and baled out the fish, as one bales water with a bucket, throwing them to us on the shore. As quickly as possible we cleaned them, and placed them in casks with salt, first a layer of salt, and then a layer of herrings, and so on, until we had ready many casks of pickled fish.
As the barrels were filled, we closed them carefully, and rolled them away to the cool vaults at the back of our cave. Our good fortune, however, was not to end here. A day after the herring fishery was over, and the shoal had left our bay, a great number of seals appeared, attracted by the refuse of the herrings which we had thrown into the sea.
Though I feared they would not be suitable for our table, we yet secured a score or two for the sake of their skins and fat. The skins we drew carefully off for harness and clothing, and the fat we boiled down for oil, which we put aside in casks for tanning, soap-making, and burning in lamps.
These occupations interfered for some time with our work at Rock House; but as soon as possible we again returned to our labour with renewed vigour. I had noticed that the salt crystals had for their base a species of gypsum, which I knew might be made of great service to us in our building operations as plaster.
As an experiment, I broke off some pieces, and, after subjecting them to great heat, reduced them to powder. The plaster this formed with water was smooth and white, and as I had then no particular use to which I might put it, I plastered over some of the herring casks, that I might be perfectly certain that all air was excluded. The remainder of the casks I left as they were, for I presently intended to preserve their contents by smoking.
To do this, the boys and I built a small hut of reeds and branches, and then we strung our herrings on lines across the roof. On the floor we lit a great fire of brushwood and moss, which threw out a dense smoke, curling in volumes round the fish, and they in a few days seemed perfectly cured.
About a month after the appearance of the herrings we were favoured by a visit from other shoals of fish. Jack espied them first, and called to us that a lot of young whales were off the coast. We ran down and discovered the bay apparently swarming with great sturgeon, salmon, and trout, all making for the mouth of Jackal River, that they might ascend it and deposit their spawn amongst the stones.
Jack was delighted at his discovery. 'Here are proper fish!' he exclaimed, 'none of your paltry fry. How do you preserve these sorts of fish? Potted, salted or smoked?'
'Not so fast,' said I, 'not so fast; tell me how they are to be caught, and I will tell you how they are to be cooked.'
'Oh! I'll catch them fast enough,' he replied, and darted off to Rock House.
While I was still puzzling my brains as to how I should set to work, he returned with his fishing apparatus in hand: a bow and arrow, and a ball of twine.
At the arrow-head he had fastened a barbed spike, and had secured the arrow to the end of the string. Armed with this weapon, he advanced to the river's edge.
His arrow flew from the bow, and, to my surprise, struck one of the largest fish in the side.
'Help, father, help!' he cried, as the great fish darted off, carrying arrow and all with it. 'Help! Or he will pull me into the water.'
I ran to his assistance, and together we struggled with the finny monster. He pulled tremendously, and lashed the water around him; but we held the cord fast, and he had no chance of escape. Weaker and weaker grew his struggles, and, at length, exhausted by his exertions and loss of blood, he allowed us to draw him ashore.
He was a noble prize, and Fritz and Ernest, who came up just as we completed his capture, were quite envious of Jack's success.
Not to be behindhand, they eagerly rushed off for weapons themselves. We were soon all in the water, Fritz with a harpoon, Ernest with a rod and line, and I myself, armed like Neptune, with an iron trident, or more properly speaking, perhaps, a pitchfork. Soon the shore was strewn with a goodly number of the finest fish--monster after monster we drew to land. At length Fritz, after harpooning a great sturgeon full eight feet long, could not get the beast ashore; we all went to his assistance, but our united efforts were unavailing.
'The buffalo!' proposed my wife, and off went Jack for Storm. Storm was harnessed to the harpoon rope, and soon the monstrous fish lay panting on the sand. We at length, when we had captured as many fish as we could possibly utilize, set about cleaning and preparing their flesh. Some we salted, some we dried like the herrings, some we treated like the tunny of the Mediterranean--we prepared them in oil.
Of the roe of the sturgeon I decided to form caviare, the great Russian dish. I removed from it all the membranes by which it is surrounded, washed it in vinegar, salted it, pressed out all the moisture caused by the water-absorbing properties of the salt, packed it in small barrels and stowed it away in our storehouse.
I knew that of the sturgeon's bladder the best isinglass is made, so carefully collecting the air-bladders from all those we had killed, I washed them and hung them up to stiffen. The outer coat or membrane I then peeled off, cutting the remainder into strips, technically called staples.
These staples I place in an iron pot over the fire, and when they had been reduced to a proper consistency I strained off the glue through a clean cloth, and spread it out on a slab of stone in thin layers, letting them remain until they were dry. The substance I thus obtained was beautifully transparent, and promised to serve as an excellent substitute for glass in our window-frames.
Fortunately, in this beautiful climate little or no attention was necessary to the kitchen garden, the seeds sprang up and flourished without apparently the slightest regard for the time or season of the year. Peas, beans, wheat, barley, rye and Indian corn, seemed constantly ripe, while cucumbers, melons, and all sorts of other vegetables grew luxuriantly. The success of our garden at Tentholm encouraged me to hope that my experiment at Falconhurst had not failed, and one morning we started to visit the spot.
As we passed by the field from which the potatoes had been dug, we found it covered with barley, wheat, rye and peas in profusion. I turned to my wife in amazement. 'Where has this fine crop sprung from?' said I.
'From the earth,' she replied, laughing, 'where Franz and I sowed the seed I brought from the wreck. The ground was ready tilled by you and the boys; all we had to do was to scatter the seed.'
I was delighted at the sight, and it augured well, I thought, for the success of my maize plantation. We hurried to the field. The crop had indeed grown well, and what was more, appeared to be duly appreciated. A tremendous flock of feathered thieves rose as we approached. Amongst them Fritz espied a few ruffed grouse, and, quick as thought, unhooding his eagle, he started him off in chase, then sprang on his onager and followed at full gallop. His noble bird marked out the finest grouse, and, soaring high above it, stooped and bore his prey to the ground.
Fritz was close at hand, and springing through the bushes he saved the bird from death, hooded the eagle's eyes, and returned triumphantly. Jack had not stood idle, for slipping his pet Fangs, he had started him among some quails who remained upon the field, and to my surprise the jackal secured some dozen of the birds, bringing them faithfully to his master's feet.
We then turned our steps towards Falconhurst, where we were refreshed by a most delicious drink my wife prepared for us; the stems of the young Indian corn crushed, strained, and mixed with water and the juice of the sugar-cane.
We then made preparations for an excursion the following day, for I wished to establish a sort of semicivilized farm at some distance from Falconhurst, where we might place some of our animals which had become too numerous with our limited means to supply them with food. In the large cart, to which we harnessed the buffalo, cow, and ass, we placed a dozen fowls, four young pigs, two couple of sheep, and as many goats, and a pair of hens and one cock grouse. Fritz led the way on his onager, and by a new track we forced a passage through the woods and tall grasses towards Cape Disappointment.
The difficult march was at length over, and we emerged from the forest upon a large plain covered with curious little bushes; the branches of these little shrubs and the ground about them were covered with pure white flakes.
'Snow! Snow!' exclaimed Franz. 'Oh, mother, come down from the cart and play snowballs. This is jolly; much better than the ugly rain.'
I was not surprised at the boy's mistake, for indeed the flakes did look like snow; but before I could express my opinion, Fritz declared that the plant must be a kind of dwarf cotton-tree. We approached nearer and found he was right--soft fine wool enclosed in pods, and still hanging on the bushes or lying on the ground, abounded in every direction. We had indeed discovered this valuable plant. My wife was charmed; and gathering a great quantity in three capacious bags, we resumed our journey.
Crossing the cotton-field, we ascended a pretty wooded hill. The view from the summit was glorious: luxuriant grass at our feet stretching down the hillside, dotted here and there with shady trees, among which gushed down a sparkling brook, while below lay the rich green forest, with the sea beyond.
What better situation could we hope to find for our new farm? Pasture, water, shade and shelter, all were here.
We pitched our tent, built our fireplace, and, leaving my wife to prepare our repast, Fritz and I selected a spot for the erection of our shed. We soon found a group of trees so situated that the trunks would serve as posts for our intended building. Thither we carried all our tools, and then, as the day was far advanced, enjoyed our supper, and lay down upon most comfortable beds which my wife had prepared for us with the cotton.
The group of trees we had selected was exactly suited to our purpose, for it formed a regular rectilinear figure, the greatest side of which faced the sea. I cut deep mortices in the trunks about ten feet from the ground, and again ten feet higher up to form a second storey. In these mortices I inserted beams, thus forming a framework for my building, and then, making a roof of laths, I overlaid it with bark, which I stripped from a neighbouring tree, and fixed with acacia thorns, and which would effectually shoot off any amount of rain.
While clearing up the scraps of bark and other rubbish for fuel for our fire, I noticed a peculiar smell, and stooping down I picked up pieces of the bark, some of which, to my great surprise, I found was that of the terebinth tree, and the rest that of the American fir. The goats, too, made an important discovery amongst the same heap, for we found them busily routing out pieces of cinnamon, a most delicious and aromatic spice.
'From the fir,' said I to the boys, 'we get turpentine and tar, and thus it is that the fir tree becomes such a valuable article of commerce. So we may look forward to preparing pitch for our yacht with tar and oil, you know, and cart-grease, too, with tar and fat. I do not know that you will equally appreciate the terebinth tree; a gum issues from incisions in the bark which hardens in the sun, and becomes as transparent as amber; when burned it gives forth a most delicious perfume, and when dissolved in spirits of wine, forms a beautiful transparent varnish.'
The completion of our new farm-house occupied us several days; we wove strong lianas and other creepers together to form the walls to the height of about six feet; the rest, up to the roof, we formed merely of a latticework of laths to admit both air and light. Within we divided the house into three parts; one subdivided into stalls for the animals; a second fitted with perches for the birds, and a third, simply furnished with a rough table and benches, to serve as a sleeping-apartment for ourselves, when we should find it necessary to pay the place a visit. In a short time the dwelling was most comfortably arranged, and as we daily filled the feeding-troughs with the food the animals best liked, they showed no inclination to desert the spot we had chosen for them.
Yet, hard as we had worked, we found that the provisions we had brought with us would be exhausted before we could hope to be able to leave the farm. I therefore dispatched Jack and Fritz for fresh supplies.
During their absence, Ernest and I made a short excursion in the neighbourhood, that we might know more exactly the character of the country near our farm.
Passing over a brook which flowed towards the wall of rocks, we reached a large marsh, and as we walked round it, I noticed with delight that it was covered with the rice plant growing wild in the greatest profusion. Here and there only were there any ripe plants, and from these rose a number of ruffed grouse, at which both Ernest and I let fly. Two fell, and Fangs, who was with us, brought them to our feet.
As we advanced, Knips skipped from the back of his steed Juno and began to regale himself on some fruit, at a short distance off; we followed the little animal and found him devouring delicious strawberries. Having enjoyed the fruit ourselves, we filled the hamper Knips always carried, and secured the fruit from his pilfering paws with leaves fixed firmly down.
I then took a sample of the rice seeds to show my wife, and we continued our journey.
Presently we reached the borders of the pretty lake which we had seen beyond the swamp. The nearer aspect of its calm blue waters greatly charmed us, and still more so, the sight of numbers of black swans, disporting themselves on the glassy surface, in which their stately forms and graceful movements were reflected as in a mirror. It was delightful to watch these splendid birds, old and young swimming together in the peaceful enjoyment of life, seeking their food, and pursuing one another playfully in the water.
I could not think of breaking in upon their happy beautiful existence by firing among them, but our dog Juno was by no means so considerate; for all at once I heard a plunge, and saw her drag out of the water a most peculiar-looking creature, something like a small otter, but not above twenty-two inches in length, which she would have torn to pieces, had we not hurried up and taken it from her.
This curious little animal was of a soft dark brown colour, the fur being of a lighter shade under the belly; its feet were furnished with large claws, and also completely webbed, the head small, with deeply set eyes and ears, and terminating in a broad flat bill like that of a duck.
This singularity seemed to us so droll that we both laughed heartily, feeling at the same time much puzzled to know what sort of animal it could possibly be. For want of a better, we gave it the name of the 'Beast with a Bill', and Ernest willingly undertook to carry it, that it might be stuffed and kept as a curiosity.
After this we returned to the farm, thinking our messengers might soon arrive, and sure enough, in about a quarter of an hour, Fritz and Jack made their appearance at a brisk trot, and gave a circumstantial account of their mission.
I was pleased to see that they had fulfilled their orders intelligently, carrying out my intentions in the spirit and not blindly to the letter.
Next morning we quitted the farm (which we named Woodlands), after providing amply for the wants of the animals, sheep, goats and poultry, which we left there.
Shortly afterwards, on entering a wood, we found it tenanted by an enormous number of apes, who instantly assailed us with showers of fir-cones, uttering hideous and angry cries, and effectually checking our progress, until we put them to flight by a couple of shots, which not a little astonished their weak minds.
Fritz picked up some of their missiles, and, showing them to me, I recognized the cone of the stone-pine.
'By all means gather some of these cones, boys,' said I; 'you will find the kernel has a pleasant taste, like almonds, and from it we can, by pressing, obtain an excellent oil. Therefore I should like to carry some home with us.'
A hill, which seemed to promise a good view from its summit, next attracted my notice, and, on climbing it we were more than repaid for the exertion by the extensive and beautiful prospect which lay spread before our eyes.
The situation altogether was so agreeable, that here also I resolved to make a settlement, to be visited occasionally, and, after resting awhile and talking the matter over we set to work to build a cottage such as we had lately finished at Woodlands.
Our experience there enabled us to proceed quickly with the work, and in a few days the rustic abode was completed, and received, by Ernest's choice, the grand name of Prospect Hill.
My chief object in undertaking this expedition had been to discover some tree from whose bark I could hope to make a useful light boat or canoe. Hitherto I had met with none at all fit for my purpose, but, not despairing of success, I began, when the cottage was built, to examine carefully the surrounding woods, and, after considerable trouble, came upon two magnificent tall straight trees, the bark of which seemed something like that of the birch.
Selecting one whose trunk was, to a great height, free from branches, we attached to one of the lower of these boughs the rope ladder we had with us, and, Fritz ascending it, cut the bark through in a circle; I did the same at the foot of the tree, and then, from between the circles, we took a narrow perpendicular slip of bark entirely out, so that we could introduce the proper tools by which gradually to loosen and raise the main part, so as finally to separate it from the tree uninjured and entire. This we found possible, because the bark was moist and flexible.
Great care and exertion were necessary, as the bark became detached, to support it, until the whole was ready to be let gently down upon the grass. This seemed a great achievement; but our work was by no means ended, nor could we venture to desist from it, until, while the material was soft and pliable, we had formed it into the shape we desired for the canoe.
In order to do this, I cut a long triangular piece out of each end of the roll, and, placing the sloping parts one over the other, I drew the ends into a pointed form and secured them with pegs and glue.
This successful proceeding had, however, widened the boat, and made it too flat in the middle, so that it was necessary to put ropes round it, and tighten them until the proper shape was restored, before we could allow it to dry in the sun.
This being all I could do without a greater variety of tools, I determined to complete my work in a more convenient situation, and forthwith dispatched Fritz and Jack with orders to bring the sledge (which now ran on wheels taken from gun-carriages) that the canoe might be transported direct to the vicinity of the harbour at Tentholm.
During their absence I fortunately found some wood naturally curved, just suited for ribs to support and strengthen the sides of the boat.
When the two lads returned with the sledge, it was time to rest for the night; but with early dawn we were again busily at work.
The sledge was loaded with the new boat, and everything else we could pack into it, and we turned our steps homewards, finding the greatest difficulty, however, in getting our vehicle through the woods. We crossed the bamboo swamp, where I cut a fine mast for my boat, and came at length to a small opening or defile in the ridge of rocks, where a little torrent rushed from its source down into the larger stream beyond; here we determined to make a halt, in order to erect a great earth wall across the narrow gorge, which, being thickly planted with prickly pear, Indian-fig, and every thorny bush we could find, would in time form an effectual barrier against the intrusion of wild beasts, the cliffs being, to the best of our belief, in every other part inaccessible.
For our own convenience we retained a small winding path through this barrier, concealing and defending it with piles of branches and thorns, and also we contrived a light drawbridge over the stream, so that we rendered the pass altogether a very strong positron, should we ever have to act on the defensive.
This work occupied two days, and continuing on our way, we were glad to rest at Falconhurst before arriving (quite tired and worn out) at Tentholm.
It took some time to recruit our strength after this long and fatiguing expedition, and then we vigorously resumed the task of finishing the canoe. The arrangements, I flattered myself, were carried out in a manner quite worthy of a shipbuilder; a mast, sails and paddles were fitted, but my final touch, although I prized it highly and considered it a grand and original idea, would no doubt have excited only ridicule and contempt had it been seen by a naval man.
My contrivance was this: I had a couple of large air-tight bags, made of the skins of the dog-fish, well tarred and pitched, inflated, and made fast on each side of the boat, just above the level of the water. These floats, however much she might be loaded, would effectually prevent either the sinking or capsizing of my craft.
I may as well relate in this place what I omitted at the time of its occurrence. During the rainy season our cow presented us with a bull-calf, and that there might never be any difficulty in managing him, I at a very early age, pierced his nose and placed a short stick in it, to be exchanged for a ring when he was old enough. The question now came to be, who should be his master, and to what should we train him?
'Why not teach him,' said Fritz, 'to fight with wild animals and defend us, like the fighting bulls of the Hottentots? That would be really useful!'
'I am sure I should much prefer a gentle bull to a fighting one!' exclaimed his mother. 'But do you mean to say tame oxen can be taught to act rationally on the defensive?'
'I can but repeat what I have heard or read,' replied I, 'as regards the race of Hottentots who inhabit the south of Africa, among all sorts of wild and ferocious animals.
'The wealth of these people consists solely in their flocks and herds, and for their protection, they train their bulls to act as guards.
'These courageous animals keep the rest from straying away, and when danger threatens, they give instant notice of it, drive the herd together in a mass, the calves and young cows being placed in the centre; around them the bulls and strong oxen make a formidable circle with their horned heads turned to the front, offering determined resistance to the fiercest foe.
'These fighting bulls will even sometimes rush with dreadful bellowing to meet the enemy; and should it be a mighty lion or other strong and daring monster, sacrifice their own lives in defence of the herd.
'It is said that formerly, when Hottentot tribes made war on one another, it was not unusual to place a troop of these stout-hearted warriors in the van of the little army, when their heroism led to decisive victory on one side or the other.
'But,' continued, I, 'although I can see you are all delighted with my description of these fine warlike animals, I think we had better train this youngster to be a peaceable bull. Who is to have charge of him?'
Ernest thought it would be more amusing to train his monkey than a calf. Jack, with the buffalo and his hunting jackal, had quite enough on his hands. Fritz was content with the onager. Their mother was voted mistress of the old grey donkey. And I myself being superintendent-in-chief of the whole establishment of animals, there remained only little Franz to whose special care the calf could be committed.
'What say you, my boy--will you undertake to look after this little fellow?'
'Oh yes, father!' he replied. 'Once you told me about a strong man, I think his name was Milo, and he had a tiny calf, and he used to carry it about everywhere. It grew bigger and bigger, but still he carried it often, till at last he grew so strong that when it was quite a great big ox, he could lift it as easily as ever. And so you see, if I take care of our wee calf and teach it to do what I like, perhaps when it grows big I shall still be able to manage it, and then--oh, papa--do you think I might ride upon it?'
I smiled at the child's simplicity, and his funny application of the story of Milo of Crotona.
'The calf shall be yours, my boy. Make him as tame as you can, and we will see about letting you mount him some day; but remember he will be a great bull long before you are nearly a man. Now what will you call him?'
'Shall I call him "Grumble", father? Hear what a low muttering noise he makes!'
'"Grumble" will do famously.'
'Grumble, Grumble. Oh, it beats your buffalo's name hollow, Jack!'
'Not a bit,' said he, 'why, you can't compare the two names. Fancy mother saying, "Here comes Franz on Grumble, but Jack riding on the Storm." Oh, it sounds sublime!'
We named the two puppies Bruno and Fawn, and so ended this important domestic business.
For two months we worked steadily at our salt-cave, in order to complete the necessary arrangement of partition walls, so as to put the rooms and stalls for the animals in comfortable order for the next long rainy season, during which time, when other work would be at a standstill, we could carry on many minor details for the improvement of the abode.
We levelled the floors first with clay; then spread gravel mixed with melted gypsum over that, producing a smooth hard surface, which did very well for most of the apartments; but I was ambitious of having one or two carpets, and set about making a kind of felt in the following way.
I spread out a large piece of sailcloth, and covered it equally all over with a strong liquid, made of glue and isinglass, which saturated it thoroughly. On it we then laid wool and hair from the sheep and goats, which had been carefully cleaned and prepared, and rolled and beat it until it adhered tolerably smoothly to the cloth. Finally it became, when perfectly dry, a covering for the floor of our sitting-room by no means to be despised.
One morning, just after these labours at the salt-cave were completed, happening to awake unusually early, I turned my thoughts, as I lay waiting for sunrise, to considering what length of time we had now passed on this coast, and discovered, to my surprise, that the very next day would be the anniversary of our escape from the wreck. My heart swelled with gratitude to the gracious God, who had then granted us deliverance, and ever since had loaded us with benefits; and I resolved to set tomorrow apart as a day of thanksgiving, in joyful celebration of the occasion.
My mind was full of indefinite plans when I rose, and the day's work began as usual. I took care that everything should be cleaned, cleared and set in order both outside and inside our dwelling: none, however, suspecting that there was any particular object in view. Other more private preparations I also made for the next day. At supper I made the coming event known to the assembled family.
'Good people! do you know that tomorrow is a very great and important day? We shall have to keep it in honour of our merciful escape to this land, and call it Thanksgiving-Day.'
Everyone was surprised to hear that we had already been twelve months in the country--indeed, my wife believed I might be mistaken, until I showed her how I had calculated regularly ever since the 31st of January, on which day we were wrecked, by marking off in my almanac the Sundays as they arrived for the remaining eleven months of that year.
'Since then,' I added, 'I have counted thirty-one days. This is the 1st of February. We landed on the 2nd; therefore tomorrow is the anniversary of the day of our escape. As my bookseller has not sent me an almanac for the present year, we must henceforth reckon for ourselves.'
'Oh, that will be good fun for us,' said Ernest. 'We must have a long stick, like Robinson Crusoe, and cut a notch in it every day, and count them up every now and then, to see how the weeks and months and years go by.'
'That is all very well, if you know for certain the number of days in each month, and in the year. What do you say, Ernest?'
'The year contains 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds,' returned he promptly.
'Perfectly correct!' said I, smiling, 'but you would get in a mess with those spare hours, minutes, and seconds in a year or two, wouldn't you?'
'Not at all! Every four years I would add them all together, make a day, stick it into February, and call that year leap year.'
'Well done, Professor Ernest! We must elect you astronomer royal in this our kingdom, and let you superintend and regulate everything connected with the lapse of time, clocks and watches included.'
Before they went to sleep, I could hear my boys whispering among themselves, about 'father's mysterious allusions' to next day's festival and rejoicings; but I offered no explanation, and went to sleep, little guessing that the rogues had laid a counter-plot, far more surprising than my simple plan for their diversion.
Nothing less than a roar of artillery startled me from sleep at daybreak next morning. I sprang up and found my wife as much alarmed as I was by the noise, otherwise I should have been inclined to believe it fancy.
'Fritz! Dress quickly and come with me!' cried I, turning to his hammock. Lo, it was empty! Neither he nor Jack were to be seen.
Altogether bewildered, I was hastily dressing, when their voices were heard, and they rushed in shouting:
'Hurrah! Didn't we rouse you with a right good thundering salute?'
But perceiving at a glance that we had been seriously alarmed, Fritz hastened to apologize for the thoughtless way in which they had sought to do honour to the Day of Thanksgiving, without considering that an unexpected cannon-shot would startle us unpleasantly from our slumbers.
We readily forgave the authors of our alarm, in consideration of the good intention which had prompted the deed, and, satisfied that the day had at least been duly inaugurated, we all went quietly to breakfast.
Afterwards we sat together for a long time, enjoying the calm beauty of the morning, and talking of all that had taken place on the memorable days of the storm a year ago; for I desired that the awful events of that time should live in the remembrance of my children with a deepening sense of gratitude of our deliverance.
Therefore I read aloud passages from my journal, as well as many beautiful verses from the Psalms, expressive of joyful praise and thanksgiving, so that even the youngest among us was impressed and solemnized at the recollections of escape from a terrible death, and also led to bless and praise the name of the Lord our Deliverer.
Dinner followed shortly after this happy service, and I then announced for the afternoon a 'Grand Display of Athletic Sports', in which I and my wife were to be spectators and judges.
'Father, what a grand idea!'
'Oh, how jolly! Are we to run races?'
'And prizes! Will there be prizes, father?'
'The judges offer prizes for competition in every sort of manly exercise,' replied I. 'Shooting, running, riding, leaping, climbing, swimming, we will have an exhibition of your skill in all. Now for it!
'Trumpeters! Sound for the opening of the lists.'
Uttering these last words in a stentorian voice and wildly waving my arms towards a shady spot, where the ducks and geese were quietly resting, had the absurd effect I intended.
Up they all started in a fright, gabbling and quacking loudly, to the infinite amusement of the children, who began to bustle about in eager preparations for the contest, and begging to know with what they were to begin.
'Let us have shooting first, and the rest when the heat of the day declines. Here is a mark I have got ready for you,' said I, producing a board roughly shaped like a kangaroo, and of about the size of one. This target was admired, but Jack could not rest satisfied till he had added ears, and a long leather strap for a tail.
It was then fixed in the attitude most characteristic of the creature, and the distance for firing measured off. Each of the three competitors was to fire twice.
Fritz hit the kangaroo's head each time; Ernest hit the body once; and Jack, by a lucky chance, shot the ears clean away from the head, which feat raised a shout of laughter.
A second trial with pistols ensued, in which Fritz again came off victor.
Then desiring the competitors to load with small shot, I threw a little board as high as I possibly could up in the air, each in turn aiming at and endeavouring to hit it before it touched the ground.
In this I found to my surprise that the sedate Ernest succeeded quite as well as his more impetuous brother Fritz.
As for Jack, his flying board escaped wholly uninjured. After this followed archery, which I liked to encourage, foreseeing that a time might come when ammunition would fail; and in this practise I saw with pleasure that my elder sons were really skilful, while even little Franz acquitted himself well.
A pause ensued, and then I started a running match. Fritz, Ernest and Jack were to run to Falconhurst, by the most direct path. The first to reach the tree was to bring me, in proof of his success, a penknife I had accidentally left on the table in my sleeping-room.
At a given signal, away went the racers in fine style. Fritz and Jack, putting forth all their powers, took the lead at once, running in advance of Ernest, who started at a good steady pace, which I predicted he would be better able to maintain than such a furious rate as his brothers.
But long before we expected to see them back, a tremendous noise of galloping caused us to look with surprise towards the bridge, and Jack made his appearance, thundering along on his buffalo, with the onager and the donkey tearing after him riderless, and the whole party in the wildest spirits.
'Hollo!' cried I. 'What sort of foot-race do you call this, Master Jack?'
He shouted merrily as he dashed up to us; then flinging himself off, and saluting us in a playful way:
'I very soon saw,' said he, 'that I hadn't a chance; so renouncing all idea of the prize, I caught Storm, and made him gallop home with me, to be in time to see the others come puffing in. Lightfoot and old Grizzle chose to join me--I never invited them!'
By and by the other boys arrived, Ernest holding up the knife in token of being the winner; and after hearing all particulars about the running, and that he had reached Falconhurst two minutes before Fritz, we proceeded to test the climbing powers of the youthful athletes.
In this exercise Jack performed wonders. He ascended with remarkable agility the highest palms whose stems he could clasp.
And when he put on the shark-skin buskins, which enabled him to take firm hold of larger trees, he played antics like a squirrel or a monkey: peeping and grinning at us, at first on one side of the stem, and then on the other, in a most diverting way.
Fritz and Ernest climbed well, but could not come near the grace and skill of their active and lively young brother.
Riding followed, and marvellous feats were performed, Fritz and Jack proving themselves very equal in their management of their different steeds. I thought the riding was over, when little Franz appeared from the stable in the cave, leading young Grumble the bull-calf, with a neat saddle of kangaroo hide, and a bridle passed through his nose ring.
The child saluted us with a pretty little air of confidence, exclaiming:
'Now, most learned judges, prepare to see something quite new and wonderful! The great bull-tamer, Milo of Crotona, desires the honour of exhibiting before you.'
Then taking a whip, and holding the end of a long cord he made the animal, at the word of command, walk, trot and gallop in a circle round him. He afterwards mounted, and showed off Grumble's somewhat awkward paces.
The sports were concluded by swimming-matches, and the competitors found a plunge in salt water very refreshing after their varied exertions.
Fritz showed himself a master in the art. At home in the element, no movement betokened either exertion or weariness. Ernest exhibited too much anxiety and effort, while Jack was far too violent and hasty, and soon became exhausted. Franz gave token of future skill.
By this time, as it was getting late, we returned to our dwelling, my wife having preceded us in order to make arrangements for the ceremony of prize-giving.
We found her seated in great state, with the prizes set out by her side.
The boys marched in, pretending to play various instruments in imitation of a band, and then all four, bowing respectfully, stood before her, like the victors in a tournament of old, awaiting the reward of valour from the Queen of Beauty, which she bestowed with a few words of praise and encouragement.
Fritz, to his immense delight, received as the prize for shooting and swimming, a splendid double-barrelled rifle, and a beautiful hunting-knife.
To Ernest, as winner of the running-match, was given a handsome gold watch.
For climbing and riding, Jack had a pair of silver-plated spurs, and a riding whip, both of which gave him extraordinary pleasure.
Franz received a pair of stirrups, and a driving whip made of rhinoceros hide, which we thought would be of use to him in the character of bull-trainer.
When the ceremony was supposed to be over, I advanced, and solemnly presented to my wife a lovely work-box, filled with every imaginable requirement for a lady's work-table, which she accepted with equal surprise and delight.
The whole entertainment afforded the boys such intense pleasure, and their spirits rose to such a pitch, that nothing would serve them but another salvo of artillery in order to close with befitting dignity and honour so great a day. They gave me no peace till they had leave to squander some gunpowder, and then at last their excited feelings seeming relieved, we were able to sit down to supper; shortly afterwards we joined in family worship and retired to rest.
Soon after the great festival of our grand Thanksgiving Day I recollected that it was now the time when, the figs at Falconhurst being ripe, immense flocks of ortolans and wild pigeons were attracted thither, and as we had found those preserved last year of the greatest use among our stores of winter provisions, I would not miss the opportunity of renewing our stock; and therefore, laying aside the building work, we removed with all speed to our home in the tree, where sure enough we found the first detachment of the birds already busy with the fruit.
In order to spare ammunition, I resolved to concoct a strong sort of bird-lime, of which I had read in some account of the Palm Islanders, who make it of fresh caoutchouc mixed with oil, and of so good a quality that it has been known to catch even peacocks and turkeys.
Fritz and Jack were therefore dispatched to collect some fresh caoutchouc from the trees, and as this involved a good gallop on Storm and Lightfoot, they nothing loth set off.
They took a supply of calabashes, in which to bring the gum, and we found it high time to manufacture a fresh stock of these useful vessels. I was beginning to propose an expedition to the Gourd-tree wood, regretting the time it would take to go such a distance, when my wife reminded me of her plantation near the potato-field.
There to our joy we found that all the plants were flourishing, and crops of gourds and pumpkins, in all stages of ripeness, covered the ground.
Selecting a great number suited to our purpose, we hastened home, and began the manufacture of basins, dishes, plates, flasks and spoons of all sorts and sizes, with even greater success than before.
When the riders returned with the caoutchouc, they brought several novelties besides.
A crane, for example, shot by Fritz, and an animal which they called a marmot, but which to me seemed much more like a badger.
Aniseed, turpentine and wax berries for candles, they had also collected, and a curious root which they introduced by the name of the monkey plant.
'And pray wherefore "monkey plant", may I ask?'
'Well, for this reason, father,' answered Fritz. 'We came upon an open space in the forest near Woodlands, and perceived a troop of monkeys, apparently engaged as Jack said, in cultivating the soil! Being curious to make out what they were at, we tied up the dogs, as well as Storm and Lightfoot, and crept near enough to see that the apes were most industriously grubbing up and eating roots. This they did in a way that nearly choked us with laughter, for when the root was rather hard to pull up, and the leaves were torn off, they seized it firmly in their teeth, and flung themselves fairly heels-over-head in the most ludicrous fashion you ever saw, and up came the root unable to resist the leverage!
'Of course we wanted to see what this dainty morsel was like, so we loosed the dogs, and the apes cleared out double quick, leaving plenty of the roots about. We tasted them, and thought them very nice. Will you try one?'
The plant was quite new to me, but I imagined it might be what is called in China 'ginseng', and there prized and valued beyond everything. The children being curious to hear more about this ginseng, I continued:
'In China it is considered so strengthening and wholesome, that it is used as a sort of universal medicine, being supposed to prolong human life.
'The emperor alone has the right to permit it to be gathered, and guards are placed round land where it grows.
'Ginseng is to be found in Tartary, and has lately been discovered in Canada; it is cultivated in Pennsylvania, because the Americans introduce it secretly into China as smuggled merchandise.'
Fritz then continued:
'After this we went on to Woodlands; but mercy on us! What a confusion the place was in! Everything smashed or torn, and covered with mud and dirt; the fowls terrified, the sheep and goats scattered, the contents of the rooms dashed about as if a whirlwind had swept through the house.'
'What!' I exclaimed, while my wife looked horrified at the news, conjuring up in her imagination hordes of savages who would soon come and lay waste Falconhurst and Tentholm as well as Woodlands.
'How can that have happened? Did you discover the authors of all this mischief?'
'Oh,' said Jack, 'it was easy to see that those dreadful monkeys had done it all. First they must have got into the yards and sheds, and hunted the fowls and creatures about; and then I daresay the cunning rascals put a little monkey in at some small opening, and bid him unfasten the shutters--you know what nimble fingers they have. Then of course the whole posse of them swarmed into our nice tidy cottage and skylarked with every single thing they could lay paws on, till perhaps they got hungry all at once, and bethought them of the "ginseng", as you call it, out in the woods yonder, where we found them so busy refreshing themselves, the mischievous villains!'
'While we were gazing at all this ruin in a sort of bewilderment,' pursued Fritz, 'we heard a sound of rushing wings and strange ringing cries as of multitudes of birds passing high above us, and looking up we perceived them flying quickly in a wedge-shaped flock at a great height in the air. They began gradually to descend, taking the direction of the lake, and separated into a number of small detachments which followed in a long straight line, and at a slower rate, the movements of the leaders, who appeared to be examining the neighbourhood. We could now see what large birds they must be, but dared not show ourselves or follow them, lest they should take alarm.
'Presently, and with one accord, they quickened their motion, just as if the band had begun to play a quick march after a slow one, and rapidly descended to earth in a variety of lively ways, and near enough for us to see that they must be cranes.
'Some alighted at once, while others hovered sportively over them. Many darted to the ground, and, just touching it, would soar again upward with a strong but somewhat heavy flight.
'After gambolling in this way for a time, the whole multitude, as though at the word of command, alighted on the rice-fields, and began to feast on the fresh grain.
'We thought now was our time to get a shot at the cranes and cautiously approached; but they were too cunning to let themselves be surprised, and we came unexpectedly upon their outposts or sentinels, who instantly sprang into the air uttering loud trumpet-like cries, upon which the whole flock arose and followed them with a rush like a sudden squall of wind.
'We were quite startled, and it was useless to attempt a shot; but unwilling to miss the chance of securing at least one of the birds, I hastily unhooded my eagle, and threw him into the air.
'With a piercing cry he soared away high above them, then shot downwards like an arrow, causing wild confusion among the cranes.
'The one which the eagle attacked, sought to defend itself; a struggle followed, and they came together to the ground not far from where we stood.
'Hastening forward, to my grief I found the beautiful crane already dead. The eagle, luckily unhurt, was rewarded with a small pigeon from my game-bag.
'After this we went back to Woodlands, got some turpentine and a bag of rice--and set off for home.'
Fritz's interesting story being ended, and supper ready, we made trial of the new roots, and found them very palatable, either boiled or stewed; the monkey plant, however, if it really proved to be the ginseng of the Chinese, would require to be used with caution, being of an aromatic and heating nature.
We resolved to transplant a supply of both roots to our kitchen garden.