Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
Having now discovered how to provide bread for my family, my thoughts began to revert to the wreck and all the valuables yet contained within it. Above all, I was bent on acquiring possession of the beautiful pinnace, and aware that our united efforts would be required to do the necessary work, I began to coax and persuade my wife to let me go in force with all the boys except Franz.
She very unwillingly gave her consent at last, but not until I had faithfully promised never to pass a night on board. I did so with reluctance, and we parted, neither feeling quite satisfied with the arrangement.
The boys were delighted to go in so large a party, and merrily carried provision-bags filled with cassava-bread and potatoes.
Reaching Safety Bay without adventure, we first paid a visit to the geese and ducks which inhabited the marsh there, and having fed them and seen they were thriving well, we buckled on each his cork-belt, stepped into the tub-boat, and, with the raft in tow, steered straight for the wreck.
When we got on board, I desired the boys to collect whatever came first to hand, and load the raft to be ready for our return at night, and then we made a minute inspection of the pinnace.
I came to the conclusion that difficulties, well-nigh insuperable, lay between me and the safe possession of the beautiful little vessel. She lay in a most un-get-at-able position at the further end of the hold, stowed in so confined and narrow a space, that it was impossible to think of fitting the parts together there. At the same time these parts were so heavy, that removing them to a convenient place piece by piece was equally out of the question.
I sent the boys away to amuse themselves by rummaging out anything they liked to carry away, and sat down quietly to consider the matter.
As my eyes became used to the dim light which entered the compartment through a chink or crevice here and there, I perceived how carefully every part of the pinnace was arranged and marked with numbers, so that if only I could bestow sufficient time on the work, and contrive space in which to execute it, I might reasonably hope for success.
'Room! Room to work in, boys! That's what we need in the first place!' I cried, as my sons came to see what plan I had devised, for so great was their reliance on me, that they never doubted the pinnace was to be ours.
'Fetch axes, and let us break down the compartment and clear space all round.'
To work we all went, yet evening drew near, and but little impression was made on the mass of woodwork around us. We had to acknowledge that an immense amount of labour and perseverance would be required before we could call ourselves the owners of the useful and elegant little craft, which lay within this vast hulk like a fossil shell embedded in a rock.
Preparations for returning to shore were hastily made, and we landed without much relish for the long walk to Falconhurst, when, to our great surprise and pleasure, we found my wife and little Franz at Tentholm awaiting us. She had resolved to take up her quarters there during the time we should be engaged on the wreck. 'In that way you will live nearer your work, and I shall not quite lose sight of you!' said she, with a pleasant smile.
'You are a good, sensible, kind wife,' I exclaimed, delighted with her plan, 'and we shall work with the greater diligence, that you may return as soon as possible to your dear Falconhurst.'
'Come and see what we have brought you, mother!' cried Fritz. 'A good addition to your stores, is it not?' and he and his brothers exhibited two small casks of butter, three of flour, corn, rice, and many other articles welcome to our careful housewife.
Our days were now spent in hard work on board, first cutting and clearing an open space round the pinnace, and then putting the parts together. We started early and returned at night, bringing each time a valuable freight from the old vessel. At length, with incredible labour, all was completed. The pinnace stood actually ready to be launched, but imprisoned within massive wooden walls which defied our strength.
It seemed exactly as though the graceful vessel had awakened from sleep, and was longing to spring into the free blue sea, and spread her wings to the breeze. I could not bear to think that our success so far should be followed by failure and disappointment. Yet no possible means of setting her free could I conceive, and I was almost in despair, when an idea occurred to me which, if I could carry it out, would effect her release without further labour or delay.
Without explaining my purpose, I got a large cast-iron mortar, filled it with gunpowder, secured a block of oak to the top, through which I pierced a hole for the insertion of the match, and this great petard I so placed, that when it exploded, it should blow out the side of the vessel next which the pinnace lay.
Then securing it with chains, that the recoil might do no damage, I told the boys I was going ashore earlier than usual, and calmly desired them to get into the boat. Then lighting a match I had prepared, and which would burn some time before reaching the powder, I hastened after them with a pounding heart, and we made for the land.
We brought the raft close in shore and began to unload it; the other boat I did not haul up, but kept her ready to put off at a moment's notice; my anxiety was unobserved by anyone, as I listened with strained nerves for the expected sound. It came!--a flash! a mighty roar--a grand burst of smoke!
My wife and children, terror-stricken, turned their eyes towards the sea, whence the startling noise came, and then in fear and wonder, looked to me for some explanation. 'Perhaps,' said my wife, as I did not speak, 'perhaps you have left a light burning near some of the gunpowder, and an explosion has taken place.'
'Not at all unlikely,' replied I quietly, 'we had a fire below when we were caulking the seams of the pinnace. I shall go off at once and see what has happened. Will anyone come?'
The boys needed no second invitation, but sprang into the boat, while I lingered to reassure my wife by whispering a few words of explanation, and then joining them, we pulled for the wreck at a more rapid rate than we ever had done before.
No alteration had taken place in the side at which we usually boarded her, and we pulled round to the further side, where a marvellous sight awaited us. A huge rent appeared, the decks and bulwarks were torn open, the water was covered with floating wreckage--all seemed in ruins; and the compartment where the pinnace rested was fully revealed to view.
There sat the little beauty, to all appearance uninjured; and the boys, whose attention was taken up with the melancholy scene of ruin and confusion around them, were astonished to hear me shout, in enthusiastic delight, 'Hurrah! She is ours! The lovely pinnace is won! We shall be able to launch her easily after all. Come, boys, let us see if she has suffered from the explosion, which has set her free.'
The boys gazed at me for a moment, and then guessing my secret, 'You planned it yourself, you clever, cunning father! Oh, that machine we helped to make, was on purpose to blow it up!' cried they; and eagerly they followed me into the shattered opening, where, to my intense satisfaction, I found everything as I could wish and the captive in no way a sufferer from the violent measures I had adopted for her deliverance.
The boys were deeply interested in examining the effects of the explosion, and in the explanation I gave them, of the principle, and proper way to manage a petard.
It was evident that the launch could now be effected without much trouble; I had been careful to place rollers beneath the keel, so that by means of levers and pulleys we might, with our united strength, move her forward towards the water.
A rope was attached by which to regulate the speed of the descent, and then, all hands putting their shoulders to the work, the pinnace began to slide from the stocks, and finally slipped gently and steadily into the water, where she floated as if conscious it was her native element; while we, wild with excitement, cheered and waved enthusiastically.
We then only remained long enough to secure our prize carefully at the most sheltered point, and went back to Tentholm, where we accounted for the explosion; saying that having blown away one side of the ship, we should be able to obtain the rest of its contents with a very few more days' work.
These days were devoted to completing the rigging, the mounting of her two little brass guns, and all necessary arrangements about the pinnace. It was wonderful what martial ardour was awakened by the possession of a vessel armed with two real guns. The boys chattered incessantly about savages, fleets of canoes, attack, defence and final annihilation of the invaders.
I assured them that, brilliant as their victories would doubtless be, we should have good cause to thank God if their fighting powers and new-born valour were never put to the test.
The pinnace was fully equipped and ready to sail, while yet no idea of the surprise we were preparing for her had dawned upon my wife, and I permitted the boys, who had kept the secret so well, to fire a salute when we entered the bay.
Casting off from the ship, and spreading the sail, our voyage began. The pinnace glided swiftly through the water, I stood at the helm, Ernest and Jack manned the guns, and Fritz gave the word of command, 'Fire!' Bang! bang! rattled out a thrilling report, which echoed and re-echoed among the cliffs, followed by our shouts and hurrahs.
My wife and her little boy rushed hastily forward from near the tent, and we could plainly see their alarm and astonishment; but speedily recognizing us, they waved joyfully, and came quickly to the landing-place to meet us.
By skilful management we brought the pinnace near a projection of the bank, and Fritz assisted his mother to come on board, where, breathless with haste and excitement, she exclaimed, 'You dear, horrid, wonderful people, shall I scold you or praise you? You have frightened me out of my wits! To see a beautiful little ship come sailing in was startling enough, for I could not conceive who might be on board, but the report of your guns made me tremble with fear--and had I not recognized your voices directly after, I should have run away with Franz Heaven knows where!
'But have you really done all this work yourselves?' she continued, when we had been forgiven for terrifying her with our vainglorious salute. 'What a charming little yacht! I should not be afraid to sail in this myself.'
After the pinnace had been shown off, and received the admiration she deserved, while our industry, skill, and perseverance met with boundless praise, 'Now,' said my wife, 'you must come with me, and see how little Franz and I have improved our time every day of your absence.'
We all landed and, with great curiosity, followed my wife up the river towards the cascade; where, to our astonishment, we found a garden neatly laid out in beds and walks; and she continued, 'We don't frighten people by firing salutes in honour of our performances; although, by and by, I too shall want fire in a peaceable form. Look at my beds of lettuce and cabbages, my rows of beans and peas! Think what delicious dinners I shall be able to cook for you, and give me credit for my diligence.'
'My dear wife!' I exclaimed. 'This is beautiful! You have done wonders! Did you not find the work too hard?'
'The ground is light and easy to dig hereabouts,' she replied. 'I have planted potatoes, and cassava-roots, there is space for sugar-canes, and the young fruit trees, and I shall want you to contrive to irrigate them, by leading water from the cascades in hollow bamboos. Up by the sheltering rocks I mean to have pineapples and melons, they will look splendid when they spread there. To shelter the beds of European vegetables from the heat of the sun, I have planted seeds of maize round them. The shadow of the tall plants will afford protection from the burning rays. Do you think that is a good plan?'
'I do indeed; the whole arrangement is capital. Now, as sunset approaches, we must return to the tent for supper and rest, for both of which we are all quite ready.'
The time passed in happy talk over our many new interests; everyone had the pleasant sensation which attends successful labour, as well as experiencing the joy of affording unexpected pleasure to others; and I especially pointed out to my sons how true, genuine happiness consists in that, rather than in mere self-gratification.
Next morning, my wife said: 'If you can exist on shore long enough to visit Falconhurst, dear husband, I should like you to attend to the little fruit trees. I fear they have been too much neglected. I have watered them occasionally, and spread earth over the roots as they lay, but I could not manage to plant them.'
'You have done far more than I could have expected, my wife,' I replied, 'and provided you do not ask me to give up the sea altogether, I most willingly agree to your request, and will go to Falconhurst as soon as the raft is unloaded, and everything safely arranged here.'
Life on shore was an agreeable change for us all, and the boys went actively to work, so that the stores were quickly brought up to the tent, piled in order, and carefully covered with sailcloths, fastened down by pegs all round. The pinnace, being provided with an anchor, was properly moored, and her elegant appearance quite altered the look of our harbour, hitherto occupied only by the grotesque tub-boat, and flat uninteresting raft.
Taking an ample supply of everything we should require at Falconhurst, we were soon comfortably reestablished in that charming abode, its peaceful shade seeming more delightful than ever, after the heat and hard work we had lately undergone.
Several Sundays had passed during our stay at Tentholm, and the welcome Day of Rest now returned again, to be observed with heartfelt devotion and grateful praise. I did not attempt too much in the form of preaching, as I could not have secured the attention of my hearers to any long-winded discourses, but they were interested in the Bible reading and simple instructions I drew from it, and their young voices joined sweetly in favorite hymns, which my wife sang from memory.
In the evening, I desired my boys to let me see their dexterity in athletic exercises, such as running, leaping, wrestling, and climbing; telling them that they must keep up the practise of these things, so as to grow strong active men, powerful to repel and cope with danger, as well as agile and swift-footed to escape from it.
No man can be really courageous and self-reliant without an inward consciousness of physical power and capability.
'I want to see my sons strong, both morally and physically,' said I; 'that means, little Franz,' as the large blue eyes looked inquiringly up at me, 'brave to do what is good and right, and to hate evil, and strong to work, hunt and provide for themselves and others, and to fight if necessary.'
On the following day, the boys seeming disposed to carry out my wishes by muscular exercise of all sorts, I encouraged them by saying, I meant to prepare a curious new weapon for them, only they must promise not to neglect the practise of archery: as to their guns, I had no reason to fear they would be laid aside.
Taking a long cord, I attached a leaden bullet to each end, and had instantly to answer a storm of questions as to what this could possibly be for.
'This is a miniature lasso,' said I. 'The Mexicans, Patagonians, and various tribes of South America, make use of this weapon in hunting, with marvellous dexterity, only, having no bullets, they fasten stones to their ropes, which are immensely longer than this. One end is swung round and round the mounted hunter's head, and then cast with skill and precision towards the animal he wishes to strike; immediately drawing it back, he can repeat the blow, and either kill or wound his prey.
'Frequently, however, the intention is to take the animal, wild horse, or buffalo, or whatever it may be, alive; and in that case, the lasso is thrown, while riding in hot pursuit, in such a way as to make the stone twist many times round the neck, body or legs of the fugitive, arresting him even in full career.'
'Oh, father, what a splendid contrivance! Will you try it now? There is the donkey, father! Do catch the donkey.'
Not at all certain of my powers, I declined to practise upon a live subject, but consented to make a trial of skill by aiming at the stump of a tree at no great distance.
My success surpassed my own expectations; the stump was entwined by the cord in such a way as to leave no doubt whatever as to the feasibility of the wonderful performances I described; and I was assailed by petitions from the boys, each anxious to possess a lasso of his own, without a moment's delay.
As the manufacture was simple, their wishes were speedily gratified, and lasso-practise became the order of the day.
Fritz, who was the most active and adroit, besides having, of course, the greatest muscular strength, soon became skilled in the art.
That night a change came over the weather, and early next morning I perceived that a gale of wind was getting up. From the height of our trees I could see that the surface of the sea was in violent agitation.
It was with no small satisfaction that I thought of our hard-won pinnace, safely moored in the harbour, and recollected that there was nothing to call us to the wreck for the next few days.
My attention was by no means monopolized by my sons and their amusements. The good mother had much to show me demanding my approval, advice, or assistance, as the case might be.
A good supply of wild pigeons and ortolans had been snared, partly cooked and preserved in lard. Of these she showed me her small cask well filled.
Then the nests of various pairs of tame pigeons were exhibited, but her chief care was the unpromising condition of her dear little fruit trees, for, having been forgotten, they were so dry and withered, that unless planted without further delay, she feared we should lose them.
This needful work we set about, therefore, at once, proposing afterwards an excursion to the Calabash Wood, in order to manufacture a large supply of vessels and utensils of all sorts and sizes.
Every one was inclined for this expedition; consequently the planting of the orchard was carried on with surprising vigour, but was not completed until towards evening; and then all sorts of arrangements were made for an early start next day. My wife and Franz were to be of the party, and their equipment took some time, for we meant to make a grand family excursion attended by our domestic pets and servants!
By sunrise we were all astir, and everything quickly made ready for a start.
The sledge loaded with ammunition and baskets of provisions, and drawn by the donkey, was to be used for carrying home our gourd manufactures, as well as any other prize we might fall in with.
Turk, as usual, headed the procession, clad in his coat of mail.
Then came the boys with their guns and game-bags. Their mother and I followed, and behind trotted Juno not in very good spirits, poor dog!--because Master Knips, who had no idea of being left alone, must needs ride on her back.
On this occasion I took two guns with me, one loaded with shot for game, another with ball for our defence against beasts of prey.
Flamingo Marsh was quickly crossed, and the magnificent country beyond lay extended in all its beauty and fertility before our eyes. It was new to my wife and two of the boys, and the lovely prospect enchanted them.
Here Fritz and Jack turned aside into the bush, where presently loud barking was followed by the quick report of a gun, and a large bird, which had risen from the thicket, fell heavily to the ground before us.
Far from resigning itself, however, to death or captivity, it sprang to its feet, and, unable to fly, rushed away with extraordinary speed, hotly pursued by the excited dog, while Fritz ran panting in the same direction, and Juno, eager to join the chase, sprang aside so suddenly, that her rider was flung unceremoniously on the sand, as she darted to intercept the retreat of the active bird. This she cleverly accomplished, but its defence was maintained so fiercely, as it struck out with its powerful legs and sharp claws, that neither Fritz nor the dogs could master it.
I hastened to their assistance, and found Juno holding on nobly by the wing she had seized, while the bird, which proved to be a magnificent bustard, struggled and fought fiercely. Watching my opportunity, I threw a large handkerchief over it, and with difficulty succeeded in binding its legs and wings. It was borne in triumph to the rest of our party, who meantime had been reclining on the sand.
'What have you got?'
'What has Fritz shot?' cried the boys, starting up at our approach.
'A bustard! Oh, that is splendid!'
'To be sure, it is the one we missed that day, don't you remember, mother? Ah, ha! Old fellow, you are done for this time!' said Jack.
'I think this is a hen bustard, it is the mother bird,' said Ernest.
'Ah, yes, poor thing!' exclaimed my wife, in a tone of concern. 'It is most likely the same, and I know she had a brood of young birds, and now they will be left unprotected and miserable. Had we not better let her go?'
'Why, my dear, kind-hearted wife, that was weeks and weeks ago! Those little birds are all strong and big by this time, and I daresay Mrs. Bustard here has forgotten all about them. Besides, she is badly wounded, and we must try to cure the hurt. If we succeed, she will be a valuable addition to our poultry-yard; if we cannot, you shall roast her for dinner.'
Resuming our march, we next arrived at the Monkey Grove, which was the scene of the tragicomic adventure by which Fritz became the guardian of the orphan ape.
While he amused us all by a lively and graphic description of the scene, Ernest was standing apart under a splendid cocoanut palm, gazing in fixed admiration at the grand height of the stem, and its beautiful graceful crown of leaves. The cluster of nuts beneath these evidently added interest to the spectacle, for, drawing quietly near him, I heard a long-drawn sigh, and the words:
'It's awfully high! I wish one would fall down!' Scarcely had he uttered these words, than, as if by magic, down plumped a huge nut at his feet.
The boy was quite startled, and sprang aside, looking timidly upwards, when, to my surprise, down came another.
'Why, this is just like the fairy tale of the wishing-cap!' cried Ernest. 'My wish is granted as soon as formed!'
'I suspect the fairy in this instance is more anxious to pelt us and drive us away, than to bestow dainty gifts upon us,' said I. 'I think there is most likely a cross-grained old ape sitting up among those shadowy leaves and branches.'
We examined the nuts, thinking they were perhaps old ones, and had fallen, in consequence, naturally, but they were not even quite ripe.
Anxious to discover what was in the tree, we all surrounded it, gaping and gazing upwards with curious eyes.
'Hollo! I see him!' shouted Fritz presently. 'Oh, a hideous creature! What can it be? Flat, round, as big as a plate, and with a pair of horrid claws! Here he comes! He is going to creep down the tree!'
At this, little Franz slipped behind his mother, Ernest took a glance round to mark a place of retreat, Jack raised the butt-end of his gun, and every eye was fixed on the trunk of the tree, down which a large land-crab commenced a leisurely descent. As it approached within reach, Jack hit at it boldly, when it suddenly dropped the remaining distance, and opening its great claws, sidled after him with considerable rapidity, upon which he fairly turned tail and ran.
We all burst into a roar of laughter, which soon made him face about, and then, to our infinite amusement, the little fellow prepared for a fresh onset; laying down all he was carrying, pulling off his jacket and spreading it wide out in both hands, he returned to the charge, suddenly threw his garment over the creature, wrapped it well round it, and then pummelled it with all the strength of his fists.
For a few minutes I could do nothing but laugh, but then running to him with my hatchet, I struck several sharp blows on his bundle, which we opened carefully, and found within the land-crab perfectly dead.
'Well, this is an ugly rascal!' cried Jack. 'If he hadn't been so hideous, I should not have dealt so severely with him. I wasn't a bit afraid. What is the creature's name?'
'This is a crab, a land-crab,' said I, 'of which there are many varieties, and this, I think, is called a cocoanut crab, or at least it deserves the name, for it is evidently very fond of eating these nuts, since it takes the trouble to climb the trees for them; the difficulty of getting at the kernel, too, is considerable. You showed no little presence of mind, Jack, when you thought of catching it in your jacket; in fact it might have been more than a match for you otherwise, for some are most determined fighters, and are very swift too. Now let us take it, as well as the nuts, to the sledge, and go on our way.'
Progress became difficult, for we were constantly stopped in passing through the wood, by having to cut away the hanging boughs and creeping plants which interlaced them. Ernest was behind, and by and by called me back to see what proved to be an important discovery; from the several stalks of one of these creepers flowed clear cold water, and I recognized the 'liane rouge', which is known in America, and is so precious to the thirsty hunter or traveller.
This is truly one of God's good gifts to man! The boys were much delighted with this curious plant. 'Only fancy, mother,' said Ernest, as he showed it to her, 'how cheering and refreshing to find this if one were lost and alone in a vast forest, wandering for days and days without being near a proper spring of water.'
'But are you certain it is safe to drink this?' asked she. I assured her it was so, and advised the boys to cut enough to quench the thirst of the whole party, including our animals. This they did, only finding it necessary, as with the sugar canes, to cut air holes above the joints.
After struggling onward for a short time, we emerged from the thickets into open ground, and saw the calabash trees in the distance. As we drew near, their curious appearance and singular fruit caused much surprise and also amusement, for we were speedily established among the trees, where, as I chose and cut down the gourds most likely to be useful, every one engaged merrily in the work of cutting, carving, sawing and scooping some manner of dish, bowl, cup, jar or platter, according to his several taste or ability.
We were to dine here, and after a time Fritz and Jack began to prepare a fireplace, their great ambition being to heat the stones red hot, and cook the crab in a hollow gourd. Their mother, therefore, left them to their own devices, and attended to the hungry animals, unharnessing the ass to graze, and giving cocoanut milk to the poor little monkey, who had been obliged to travel in a covered basket for some time, lest he should be lost in the woods. The wounded bustard had been completely forgotten, and from heat and thirst was suffering greatly until her friendly care revived it, and it was tied to a tree and allowed to move about, its fierce spirit greatly tamed by adversity.
The cooking operations came to a stand soon after the fire was lighted, for it appeared that we had no more water in the jars we had brought, so the boys proposed to go in search of a spring. I agreed to accompany them; Ernest also wished to join us, and as our intention was to examine merely the surrounding wood, I saw no objection to leaving their mother and Franz for a short time.
Very soon after our exploration began, Ernest, who was in front, turned with a face of terror, shouting, 'A wild boar! An immense wild boar, father! Do come quick!'
And, sure enough, I heard a loud snorting and puffing as some large animal passed hastily through the thick underwood beyond us. 'After him, lads, after him!' cried I, hurrying forwards. 'Call the dogs! Stand ready to fire!' And we pressed through the bushes to the spot where Ernest had seen the creature.
The ground was grubbed up, and some potatoes lay about, showing that we had disturbed him at his mid-day meal. Ernest and Jack were more disposed to gather the roots than to follow up the chase. Fritz and I alone went after the dogs, who eagerly pushed on, and by the sounds we heard had evidently attacked the boar at no great distance. Terrific barking, snarling and grunting, guided us to the scene of action, and we beheld our mastiffs one on each side of a large respectable-looking pig, holding on by the great ears, while the animal, on seeing us, appeared rather to beseech our interference than to propose to offer a desperate resistance.
In a moment the truth became apparent! The captive grunter was no fierce native of the forest, but our own runaway sow! Our excitement had been wound to so high a pitch, that the discovery was quite a shock, and we felt half angry with the creature who had disappointed us; then the absurdity of the whole thing made us laugh heartily, and calling off the dogs, the old lady was released from her ignominious position.
Our laughter resounding through the wood, brought Ernest and Jack from their potatoes, to see what was going on.
'Much use you two would have been suppose we had required help,' cried Fritz, as they too recognized their old friend.
'Ah, well, you see,' returned Jack, 'Ernest and I had a sort of a kind of presentiment that this was going to be the old sow. And just look at our fine potatoes!'
A good deal of joking on the subject ensued, but was interrupted by Ernest, who drew our attention to fruit resembling apples on the surrounding bushes, and on the grass beneath them.
The sow was making amends for the fright and pain she had endured by munching and crunching this fruit at a great rate. Fritz feared that it might be the poisonous manchineel, against which I once warned them, but on examining it, I was induced to pronounce a more favourable opinion, and we collected a quantity in hopes that, if the monkey approved of it as well as the old sow, we might be able to enjoy a feast ourselves.
All this time not a drop of water had we seen, and our own thirst increasing, we felt eager to procure some before returning to our resting-place.
Jack preceded us, and we made our way towards a high rock, which rose above the thickets, when he suddenly startled us by a loud cry of 'A crocodile! Father! Father! A crocodile!'
'Nonsense, boy! A crocodile of all things, in this dry, parched forest, where we can't get so much as a mouthful of water!'
On advancing to where Jack stood, I perceived that his mistake was not so very silly after all, for I beheld an iguana, one of the largest of the lizard species, and a truly formidable-looking fellow. I was glad to assure Jack that the strange creature he had found was perfectly harmless, and that its flesh being esteemed a delicacy, it would be a valuable prize to carry back with us.
In another moment Fritz would have fired, but arresting his hand--'Your shot,' I said, 'would probably only wound the animal, and being extremely tenacious of life, it would certainly escape us; we must gain possession of the sleeping beauty by a gentler method.'
'You are not going to kiss it, are you, father?' asked Jack, with a grin. I tried to rebuke him for his impertinence, but, failing, I commenced operations. I first attached a cord and running-noose to a stout stick, and holding a light switch in my other hand, I began to approach the creature with soft, slow steps, while the boys looked on with the utmost curiosity.
Presently I began very softly to whistle a sweet, yet very lively air, which I continued more and more distinctly as I drew near the lizard; until, awaking, it seemed to listen with pleasure--raising its head as though better to catch the sounds, or to discover whence they came.
When near enough, I began gently to stroke and tickle him with the wand, continuing to whistle the prettiest tunes I could think of; and the lizard gave signs of pleasurable contentment, stretching his limbs and moving his tail in token of enjoyment.
Suddenly, availing myself of a movement of his head, I cast the noose over it, drew the cord tight and, placing my foot on the body, I was about to kill it by piercing the nostril--almost the only vulnerable part in this singular reptile--when Jack received such a slap from its tail, which it was furiously driving in all directions, as sent him rolling over like a nine-pin.
At the same time he opened his jaws, when the boys took fright at the row of sharp teeth, and thinking that the sooner he was dead the better, were for battering him with sticks; but I assuring them my method would kill him more quickly and without pain, thrust my rod into his nostril, on which the blood flowed and the lizard soon expired.
The boys seemed to think me as wonderful a person as a snake-charmer, and the success of my stratagem, as well as of the means by which the lizard was slain, called forth great admiration, since they never had heard of the animal, nor of the method of capturing it so commonly practised in the West Indies.
Now came the question of how we were to carry this unwieldy burden. I had a great dislike to killing any creature and leaving it useless behind me; so, without more ado, I fairly took it on my back, and marched off with it.
As we came towards the Calabash Wood, we could hear the voices of the deserted mother and child calling us in anxious tones; for indeed our protracted absence alarmed them. We shouted joyously in reply, and our appearance, as we issued from the woods, afforded them welcome relief from their fears, although the dreadful creature on my back startled them not a little.
There was so much to tell, so much to be seen, that for a time hunger and thirst were forgotten; and no one thought even of the water we had vainly gone in search of, until Master Knips, having slyly possessed himself of some of our new-found apples, was discovered munching away and enjoying them amazingly--which instantly gave the boys a strong wish to eat some also; and as the bustard likewise pecked at them without hesitation, I felt sure there could be no danger; and on tasting them, I concluded it was the fruit of the guava, a West Indian plant, which we were delighted to have.
Although refreshing, this fruit rather sharpened than appeased our appetites, and we were glad to eat the provisions we had brought from home, without waiting to cook anything, as we had originally intended.
It was, in fact, high time to move homewards, and we thought it best not to encumber ourselves with the sledge and the greater part of its load, but to leave it until the next day. The ass was laden with the iguana and the bustard; and little Franz, tired as he was, looked in vain for a spare seat on its back.
Our road home lay through a majestic forest of oak trees, beneath which lay numberless acorns, some of which we gathered as we went along; and at length, before night closed in, we all reached Falconhurst in safety. When supper was ready, we were thankful to recruit our exhausted strength by eating heartily of a piece of broiled iguana, with potatoes and roast acorns, which tasted like excellent chestnuts.