« Prev Chapter V Next »

CHAPTER V

IF the shepherd had stood looking over the cliff for one moment longer, he would have witnessed a curious scene. Every schoolboy knows that a stone is lighter in water than in air. How the monkey knew this, or whether he did or did not, it is impossible to say, but his actions were certainly those of a philosopher. For, instead of resigning himself to his fate, he bent down and grasped the stone which held him to his watery grave, picked it up in his arms, and walked calmly along the bottom towards the shore. With a supreme effort he next got the stone edged on to a half-submerged ledge; but now that it was half out of the water it was once more too heavy to lift, and Tricky lay in great perplexity in the shallow water, wondering how ever he was to get out of this fresh dilemma. There appeared nothing for it but to attack the rope with his teeth, and for an hour Tricky worked at the tough strands, but without almost any success. After another hour’s work the monkey made an appalling discovery. When he began work, the water was only up to his knees; and to his consternation, it now covered him up to his middle. In a short time more it came up to his neck, and it was clear to Tricky that if the ledge went on sinking at this rate he was a dead monkey. Tricky thought he knew all about the sea, but in the foreign sea, where he had lived with the missionary, there were no tides, and this creeping in of the water greatly disturbed his peace of mind. To his great joy, however, he found that the stone, now wholly covered with water, was once more light enough to lift, and he trundled it along the ledge till the water became too shallow to move it further. Just above this point was another ledge, high and dry above tide-mark, and the yard of rope was just long enough to allow the monkey to take up his position there, and shake himself dry in the sun.

Now, this shaking process suggested an idea to Tricky—a very obvious one to you or me, but a real inspiration to a monkey. Tricky noticed that the very part of the rope where he had been gnawing rested against the sharp edge of the rocky ledge, and that one frayed strand had suddenly parted while he was shaking himself. The rock-edge, in fact, was a regular knife, and after much and hard rubbing, and many rests, Tricky found himself within three or four strands of freedom. It was all but midnight when the last strand parted, and in a few minutes more the gallant monkey crawled up the cliff and stood once more at the door of his executioner’s house.

I am afraid you will be as much surprised as Tricky was at the startling discovery he made when he got there. The cottage was on fire! For days, you will remember, there had been no food in the shepherd’s home. But that day the family had celebrated the mending of the pump by a great banquet, and a washing. Such a fire was lit as had not blazed on the hearth for years, and when it grew dark the red sparks flew into the air and fell in dangerous showers upon the dry thatched roof. The wind, too, rose about nightfall, and fanned one smouldering square of turf into life; and when Tricky reached the spot at least half the roof was already in a blaze. But Tricky was hungry after his day’s adventures, and the chimney end of the roof being still untouched by the fire, he jumped on to the roof and down into the kitchen with a bound. The baby’s cradle lay, as usual, close to the side of the fire, and the monkey, in passing, must have swished it with his tail, for the infant broke into a sudden yell, which rang through the room, and woke the shepherd with a start. The good man was awake not a moment too soon. Had the monkey arrived five minutes later the whole family must have perished; the smoke had already filled the other room, and was pouring in, in rolling clouds, below the kitchen door. With one thunderstruck glare at the night-watchman who had wakened him so opportunely—and who now occupied his usual throne on the meal-barrel, violently sneezing out smoke, and wondering whether it was not better to be drowned—the shepherd rushed towards the door to save the two elder children who lay locked in slumber in the burning room beyond. Seizing them in his arms, he bore them safely to the open air, and then returned for his wife and the other children. Tricky followed at their heels; and the next moment the rescued family stood in a shivering group, helplessly watching the flames. The roof soon fell in, and in the morning all that remained of the shepherd’s house was a few charred rafters.

On the spot where the shepherd’s cottage was burned now stands a noble lighthouse. It was put up a few months after the fire, and one of the three lighthouse-keepers is the shepherd. The second is a man who is fond of telling tales of the sea, and how he was once mate of a ship called the Vulcan The third keeper of the lighthouse is a quadruped called Tricky. The affection between him and the ex-shepherd is peculiar. Other people think there is some history connected with it, but the shepherd never says much. When asked if it is really true that the monkey cannot be killed, he always replies, ‘Yes; but that is not why it is alive.’ Only on one occasion was the shepherd known to add anything to that remark. It was one night when Tricky had held back the baby—it had just learned to creep—from tumbling over the cliff. Then the shepherd smiled as he threw Tricky a whole bagful of nuts, and said, That monkey won’t kill—nor let anybody else kill.’

picture

Tricky Held Back the Baby

« Prev Chapter V Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |