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Chapter 8

Next morning the boys and I started with the cart laden with our bundles of bamboos to attend to the avenue of fruit trees. The buffalo we left behind, for his services were not needed, and I wished the wound in his nostrils to become completely cicatrized before I again put him to work. We were not a moment too soon; many of the young trees which before threatened to fall had now fulfilled their promise, and were lying prostrate on the ground, others were bent, some few only remained erect. We raised the trees, and digging deeply at their roots, drove in stout bamboo props, to which we lashed them firmly with strong broad fibres.

‘Papa,’ said Franz, as we were thus engaged, and he handed me the fibres as I required them, ‘are these wild or tame trees?’

‘Oh, these are wild trees, most ferocious trees,’ laughed Jack, ‘and we are tying them up lest they should run away, and in a little while we will untie them and they will trot about after us and give us fruit wherever we go. Oh, we will tame them; they shall have a ring through their noses like the buffalo!’

‘That’s not true,’ replied Franz, gravely, ‘but there are wild and tame trees, the wild ones grow out in the woods like the crab-apples, and the tame ones in the garden like the pears and peaches at home. Which are these, papa?’

‘They are not wild,’ I replied, ‘but grafted or cultivated or, as you call them, tame trees.’

‘Do you think all these trees will grow?’ asked Fritz, as we crossed Jackal River and entered our plantation at Tentholm. ‘Here are lemons, pomegranates, pistachio nuts, and mulberries.’

We talked and worked until every tree that required the treatment was provided with a stout bamboo prop, and then, with appetites which a gourmand might well have envied, we returned to Falconhurst. I think my good wife was almost alarmed at the way we fell upon the corned beef and palm-cabbage she set before us, but at length these good things produced the desired effect, and one after another declared himself satisfied. As we sat reclining after our labour and digesting our dinner we discussed the various projects we had in contemplation. ‘I wish,’ said my wife, ‘that you would invent some other plan for climbing to the nest above us; I think that the nest itself is perfect, I really wish for nothing better, but I should like to be able to get to it without scaling that dreadful ladder every time; could you not make a flight of steps to reach it?’

I carefully thought over the project, and turned over every plan for its accomplishment.

‘It would be impossible, I am afraid,’ said I, ‘to make stairs outside, but within the trunk it might be done. More than once have I thought that this trunk might be hollow or partly so, and if such be the case our task would be comparatively easy. Did you not tell me the other day that you noticed bees coming from a hole in the tree?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said little Franz, ‘and I went to look at them and one flew right against my face and stung me, and I almost cried, but I didn’t.’

‘Brave little boy,’ said I. ‘Well, now, if the trunk be sufficiently hollow to contain a swarm of bees, it may be for all we can tell hollow the greater part of its length, for like the willow in our own country it might draw all its nourishment through the bark, and in spite of its real unsoundness retain a flourishing appearance.’

Master Jack, practical as usual, instantly sprang to his feet to put my conjecture to the proof. The rest followed his example, and they were all soon climbing about like squirrels peeping into the hole, and tapping the wood to discover by sound how far down the cavity extended.

They forgot, in their eagerness, who were the tenants of this interesting trunk. They were soon reminded of it, however, for the bees, disturbed by this unusual noise, with an angry buzz burst out and in an instant attacked the causers of the annoyance; they swarmed round them, stung them on the hands, face, and neck, settled in their hair, and pursued them as they ran to me for assistance. It was with difficulty that we got rid of the angry insects, and were able to attend to the boys. Jack, who had been the first to reach the hole, had fared the worst and was soon a most pitiable sight, his face swelled to an extraordinary degree, and it was only by the constant application of cold earth that the pain was alleviated. They were all eager to commence an organized attack upon the bees at once, but for an hour or more by reason of their pain they were unable to render me much assistance. In the meanwhile I made my arrangements. I first took a large calabash gourd, for I intended to make a beehive, that, when we had driven the insects from their present abode, we might not lose them entirely. The lower half of the gourd I flattened, I then cut an arched opening in the front for a doorway, made a straw roof as a protection from the rain and heat, and the little house was complete.

Nothing more however could then be done, for the irritated bees were still angrily buzzing round the tree. I waited till dark, and then when all the bees had again returned to their trunk, with Fritz’s assistance I carefully stopped up every hole in the tree with wet clay, that the bees might not issue forth next morning before we could begin operations. Very early were we up and at work. I first took a hollow cane, and inserted one end through the clay into the tree; down this tube with pipe and tobacco I smoked most furiously.

The humming and buzzing that went on within was tremendous; the bees evidently could not understand what was going to happen. I finished my first pipeful, and putting my thumb over the end of the cane, I gave the pipe to Fritz to refill. He did so and I again smoked. The buzzing was now becoming less noisy, and was subsiding into a mere murmur. By the time I had finished this second pipe all was still; the bees were stupefied.

‘Now then, Fritz,’ said I, ‘quick with a hammer and chisel, and stand here beside me.’

He was up in a moment, and, together, we cut a small door by the side of the hole; this door however, we did not take out, but we left it attached by one corner that it might be removed at a moment’s notice, then giving the bees a final dose of tobacco smoke, we opened it.

Carefully but rapidly we removed the insects, as they clung in clusters to the sides of the tree, and placed them in the hive prepared for their reception. As rapidly I then took every atom of wax and honey from their storehouse, and put it in a cask I had made ready for the purpose.

The bees were now safely removed from the trunk, but I could not tell whether, when they revived from their temporary stupor, they might not refuse to occupy the house with which I had presented them, and insist on returning to their old quarters. To prevent the possibility of this occurrence I took a quantity of tobacco, and, placing it upon a board nailed horizontally within the trunk, I lighted it and allowed it to burn slowly that the fumes might fill the cavity. It was well I did so, for, as the bees returned to consciousness, they left their pretty hive and buzzed away to the trunk of the tree. They seemed astonished at finding this uninhabitable, and an immense deal of noisy humming ensued. Round and round they flew, backwards and forwards between the gourd and tree, now settling here and now there, until, at length, after due consideration, they took possession of the hive and abandoned their former habitation to us the invaders of their territory. By the evening they were quite quiet, and we ventured to open the cask in which we had stored our plunder. We first separated the honey from the honeycomb and poured it off into jars and pots; the rest we then took and threw into a vessel of water placed over a slow fire. It soon boiled and the entire mass became fluid. This we placed in a clean canvas bag, and subjected to a heavy pressure. The honey was thus soon forced out, and we stored it in a cask, and, though not perhaps quite equal to the former batch in quality, it was yet capital. The wax that remained in the bag I also carefully stored, for I knew it would be of great use to me in the manufacture of candles. Then after a hard day’s work we turned in.

The internal architecture of the tree had now to be attended to, and early the following morning we prepared for the laborious task. A door had first to be made, so at the base of the trunk we cut away the bark and formed an opening just the size of the door we had brought from the captain’s cabin, and which, hinges and all, was ready to be hung. The clearing of the rotten wood from the centre of the trunk occupied us some time, but at length we had the satisfaction of seeing it entirely accomplished, and, as we stood below, we could look up the trunk, which was like a great smooth funnel, and see the sky above. It was now ready for the staircase, and first we erected in the centre a stout sapling to form an axis round which to build the spiral stairs; in this we cut notches to receive the steps, and corresponding notches in the tree itself to support the outer ends. The steps themselves we formed carefully and neatly of planks from the wreck, and clenched them firmly in their places with stout nails. Upwards and upwards we built, cutting windows in the trunk as we required, to admit light and air, until we were flush with the top of the centre pole. On this pole we erected another to reach the top of the tree, and securing it firmly, built in the same way round it until we at length reached the level of the floor of the nest above. To make the ascent of the stairs perfectly easy we ran a hand-rail on either side, one round the centre pillar, and the other following the curve of the trunk.

This task occupied us a whole month, and by the end of that period, so accustomed had we become to having a definite piece of work before us that we began to consider what other great alteration we should undertake. We were, however, of course not neglecting the details of our colonial establishment. There were all the animals to be attended to, the goats and sheep had both presented us with additions to our flock, and these frisky youngsters had to be seen after; to prevent them straying to any great distance, for we had no wish to lose them, we tied round their necks little bells, which we had found on board the wreck, and which would assist us to track them. Juno, too, had a fine litter of puppies, but, in spite of the entreaties of the children, I could not consent to keep more than two, and the rest disappeared in that mysterious way in which puppies and kittens are wont to leave the earth. To console his mother, as he said, but also, I suspect, to save himself considerable trouble, Jack placed his little jackal beside the remaining puppies, and, to his joy, found it readily adopted. The other pets were also flourishing, and were being usefully trained. The buffalo, after giving us much trouble, had now become perfectly domesticated, and was a very useful beast of burden, besides being a capital steed for the boys. They guided him by a bar thrust through the hole in his nose, which was now perfectly healed, and this served the purpose just as a bit in the mouth of a horse. I began his education by securing round him a broad girth of buffalo-hide and fastening to it various articles, to accustom him to carrying a burden. By degrees he permitted this to be done without making the slightest resistance, and soon carried the panniers, before borne by the ass, readily and willingly.

I then made Master Knips sit upon his back and hold the reins I had prepared for him, that the animal might become accustomed to the feeling of a rider, and finally allowed Fritz himself to mount. The education of the eagle was not neglected. Fritz every day shot small birds for his food, and these he placed sometimes between the wide-spreading horns of the buffalo or goat, and sometimes upon the back of the great bustard, that he might become accustomed to pounce upon living prey. These lessons had their due effect, and the bird, having been taught to obey the voice and whistle of his master, was soon allowed to bring down small birds upon the wing, when he stooped and struck his quarry in most sportsmanlike manner. We kept him well away from the poultry-yard lest his natural instincts should show themselves, and he should put an untimely end to some of our feathered pets.

Neither was Master Knips allowed to remain idle, for Ernest, now that he was in his possession, wished to train him to be of some use. With Jack’s help he made a little basket of rushes, which he so arranged with straps that it might be easily fitted on to the monkey’s back. Thus equipped he was taught to mount coconut palms and other lofty trees, and to bring down their fruit in the hamper.

Jack was not so successful in his educational attempts. Fangs, as he had christened his jackal, used his fangs indeed, but only on his own account; nothing could persuade him that the animals he caught were not at once to be devoured, consequently poor Jack was never able to save from his jaws anything but the tattered skin of his prey. Not disheartened, however, he determined that Fangs could be trained, and that he would train him.

These, and suchlike employments, afforded us the rest and recreation we required while engaged in the laborious task of staircase building.

Among my minor occupations, I applied myself to the improvement of our candles. Though the former batch had greatly delighted us at first, yet we were soon obliged to acknowledge that the light they gave was imperfect, and their appearance was unsightly; my wife, too, begged me to find some substitute for the threads of our cotton neck-ties, which I had previously used as wicks. To give the proper shape and smoothness to the candles, I determined to use the bamboo moulds I had prepared. My first idea was to pour the wax in at the end of the mould, and then when the candles were cooled to slip them out; but I was soon convinced that this plan would not succeed. I therefore determined to divide the moulds lengthways, and then, having greased them well, we might pour the melted wax into the two halves bound tightly together, and so be able to take out the candles when cool without injuring them. The wicks were my next difficulty, and as my wife positively refused to allow us to devote our ties and handkerchiefs for the purpose, I took a piece of inflammable wood from a tree, a native of the Antilles, which I thought would serve our purpose; this I cut into long slips, and fixed in the centres of the moulds. My wife, too, prepared some wicks from the fibres of the karate tree, which she declared would beat mine completely out of the field. We put them to the proof.

On a large fire we placed a pot, in which we prepared our wax mixture—half bees’ wax and half wax from the candleberries. The moulds carefully prepared—half with karate fibre, and half with wooden splint wicks—stood on their ends in a tub of cold water, ready to receive the wax. They were filled; the wax cooled; the candles taken out and subjected to the criticism of all hands. When night drew on, they were formally tested. The decision was unanimous: neither gave such a good light as those with the cotton wicks; but even my wife declared that the light from mine was far preferable to that emitted by hers, for the former, though rather flaring, burned brilliantly, while the latter gave out such a feeble and flickering flame that it was almost useless.

I then turned shoemaker, for I had promised myself a pair of waterproof boots, and now determined to make them.

Taking a pair of socks, I filled them with sand, and then coated them over with a thin layer of clay to form a convenient mould; this was soon hardened in the sun, and was ready for use. Layer after layer of caoutchouc I brushed over it, allowing each layer to dry before the next was put on, until at length I considered that the shoes were of sufficient thickness. I dried them, broke out the clay, secured with nails a strip of buffalo-hide to the soles, brushed that over with caoutchouc, and I had a pair of comfortable, durable, respectable-looking waterproof boots.

I was delighted; orders poured in from all sides, and soon everyone in the family was likewise provided for.

One objection to Falconhurst was the absence of any spring close by, so that the boys were obliged to bring water daily from the stream; and this involving no little trouble, it was proposed that we should carry the water by pipes from the stream to our present residence. A dam had to be thrown across the river some way up stream, that the water might be raised to a sufficient height to run to Falconhurst. From the reservoir thus made we led the water down by pipes into the turtle’s shell, which we placed near our dwelling, and from which the superfluous water flowed off through the hole made in it by Fritz’s harpoon. This was an immense convenience, and we formally inaugurated the trough by washing therein a whole sack of potatoes. Thus day after day brought its own work, and day after day saw that work completed. We had no time to be idle, or to lament our separation from our fellow creatures.

One morning, as we were completing our spiral staircase, and giving it such finish as we were capable of, we were suddenly alarmed by hearing a most terrific noise, the roaring or bellowing of a wild beast; so strange a sound was it, that I could not imagine by what animal it was uttered.

Jack thought it perhaps a lion, Fritz hazarded a gorilla, while Ernest gave it as his opinion, and I thought it possible that he was right, that it was a hyaena.

‘Whatever it is,’ said I, ‘we must prepare to receive it; up with you all to the nest while I secure the door.’

Then arming the dogs with their collars, I sent them out to protect the animals below, closed the door, and joined my family. Every gun was loaded, every eye was upon the watch. The sound drew nearer, and then all was still; nothing was to be seen. I determined to descend and reconnoitre, and Fritz and I carefully crept down; with our guns at full cock we glided amongst the trees; noiselessly and quickly we pushed on further and further; suddenly, close by, we heard the terrific sound again. Fritz raised his gun, but almost as quickly again dropped it, and burst into a hearty fit of laughter. There was no mistaking those dulcet tones—hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw, resounded through the forest, and our ass braying his approach right merrily appeared in sight. To our surprise, however, our friend was not alone: behind him trotted another animal, an ass no doubt, but slim and graceful as a horse. We watched their movements anxiously.

‘Fritz,’ I whispered, ‘that is an onager. Creep back to Falconhurst and bring me a piece of cord—quietly now!’

While he was gone, I cut a bamboo and split it halfway down to form a pair of pincers, which I knew would be of use to me should I get near the animal. Fritz soon returned with the cord, and I was glad to observe also brought some oats and salt. We made one end of the cord fast to a tree, and at the other end made a running noose. Silently we watched the animals as they approached, quietly browsing; Fritz then rose, holding in one hand the noose, and in the other some oats and salt. The ass seeing his favourite food thus held out, advanced to take it; Fritz allowed him to do so, and he was soon munching contentedly. The stranger, on seeing Fritz, started back; but finding her companion show no signs of alarm, was reassured, and soon approached sniffing, and was about to take some of the tempting food. In a moment the noose left Fritz’s adroit hand and fell round her neck; with a single bound she sprang backwards the full length of the cord, the noose drew tight, and she fell to the earth half strangled. I at once ran up, loosened the rope and replaced it by a halter; and placing the pincers upon her nose, secured her by two cords fastened between two trees, and then left her to recover herself.

Everyone hastened up to examine the beautiful animal as she rose from the ground and cast fiery glances around. She lashed out with her heels on every side; and, giving vent to angry snorts, struggled violently to get free. All her endeavours were vain: the cords were stout, and after a while she quieted down and stood exhausted and quivering. I then approached: she suffered me to lead her to the roots of our tree, which for the present formed our stables, and there I tied her up close to the donkey, who was likewise prevented from playing truant.

Next morning I found the onager after her night’s rest as wild as ever, and as I looked at the handsome creature I almost despaired of ever taming her proud spirit. Every expedient was tried, and at length, when the animal was subdued by hunger, I thought I might venture to mount her; and having given her the strongest curb and shackled her feet, I attempted to do so. She was as unruly as ever, and as a last expedient I resolved to adopt a plan which, though cruel, was I knew attended with wonderful success by the American Indians, by whom it is practised. Watching a favourable opportunity, I sprang upon the onager’s back, and seizing her long ear in my teeth, in spite of her kicking and plunging, bit it through. The result was marvellous, the animal ceased plunging, and, quivering violently, stood stock-still. From that moment we were her masters, the children mounted her one after the other, and she carried them obediently and quietly. Proud, indeed, did I feel as I watched this animal, which naturalists and travellers have declared to be beyond the power of man to tame, guided hither and thither by my youngest son.

Additions to our poultry yard reminded me of the necessity of providing some substantial shelter for our animals before the rainy season came on; three broods of chickens had been successfully hatched, and the little creatures, forty in all, were my wife’s pride and delight. We began by making a roof over the vaulted roots of our tree, forming the framework of bamboo canes which we laid close together and bound tightly down; others we fixed below as supports. The interstices were filled up with clay and moss; and coating the whole over with a mixture of tar and lime-water, we obtained a firm balcony, and a capital roof impervious to the severest fall of rain. I ran a light rail round the balcony to give it a more ornamental appearance, and below divided the building into several compartments. Stables, poultry yard, hay and provision lofts, dairy, kitchen, larder and dining-hall were united under one roof.

Our winter-quarters were now completed, and we had but to store them with food. Day after day we worked, bringing in provisions of every description.

As we were one evening returning from gathering potatoes, it struck me that we should take in a store of acorns; and sending the two younger boys home with their mother and the cart, I took a large canvas bag, and with Fritz and Ernest, the former mounted on his onager, and the latter carrying his little favourite, Knips, made a detour towards the Acorn Wood.

We reached the spot, tied Lightfoot to a neighbouring tree, and began rapidly to fill the sack. As we were thus engaged, Knips sprang suddenly into a bush close by, from which, a moment afterwards, issued such strange cries that Ernest followed to see what could be the matter.

‘Come!’ he shouted, ‘Come and help me! I’ve got a couple of birds and their eggs. Quick! Ruffed grouse!’

We hurried to the spot. There was Ernest with a fluttering, screaming bird in either hand; while, with his foot, he was endeavouring to prevent his greedy little monkey from seizing the eggs. We quickly tied the legs of the birds, and removing the eggs from the nest, placed them in Ernest’s hat; while he gathered some of the long, broad grass, with which the nest was woven, and which grew luxuriantly around, for Franz to play at sword-drill with. We then loaded the onager with the acorns and moved homewards. The eggs I covered carefully with dry moss, that they might be kept warm, and as soon as possible I handed them over to my wife who managed the mother so cleverly that she induced her to return to the eggs, and in a few days, to our great delight, we had fifteen beautiful little Canadian chicks.

Franz was greatly pleased with the ‘swords’ his brother brought him; but having no small companion on whom to exercise his valour, he amused himself for a short time in hewing down imaginary foes, and then cut the reeds in slips, and plaited them to form a whip for Lightfoot. The leaves seemed so pliable and strong, that I examined them to see to what further use they might be put. Their tissue was composed of long silky fibres. A sudden thought struck me—this must be New Zealand flax. I could not rest till I had announced this invaluable discovery to my wife. She was no less delighted than I was.

‘Bring me the leaves!’ she exclaimed. ‘Oh, what a delightful discovery! No one shall now be clothed in rags; just make me a spindle, and you shall soon have shirts and stockings and trousers, all good homespun! Quick, Fritz, and bring your mother more leaves!’

We could not help smiling at her eager zeal; but Fritz and Ernest sprang on their steeds, and soon the onager and buffalo were galloping home again, each laden with a great bundle of flax. The boys dismounted and deposited their offering at their mother’s feet.

‘Capital!’ she exclaimed. ‘I shall now show you that I am not at all behindhand in ingenuity. This must be rested, carded, spun and woven, and then with scissors, needle and thread I will make you any article of clothing you choose.’

We decided that Flamingo Marsh would be the best spot for the operation of steeping or ‘retting’ the flax, and next morning we set out thither; the cart drawn by the ass, and laden with the bundles, between which sat Franz and Knips, while the rest of us followed with spades and hatchets. I described to my boys as we went along the process of resting, and explained to them how steeping the flax leaves destroys the useless membrane, while the strong fibres remain.

As we were employed in making beds for the flax and placing it in them, we observed several nests of the flamingo. These are most curiously and skilfully made of glutinous clay, so strong that they can neither be overturned nor washed away. They are formed in the shape of blunted cones, and placed point downwards; at the upper and broader end is built a little platform to contain the eggs, on which the female bird sits, with her long legs in the water on either side, until the little birds are hatched and can take to the water. For a fortnight we left the flax to steep, and then taking it out and drying it thoroughly in the sun, stored it for future use at Falconhurst.

Daily did we load our cart with provisions to be brought to our winter-quarters: manioc potatoes, coconuts, sweet acorns, sugar-canes, were all collected and stored in abundance—for grumbling thunder, lowering skies, and sharp showers warned us that we had no time to lose. Our corn was sowed, our animals housed, our provisions stored, when down came the rain.

To continue in our nest we found impossible, and we were obliged to retreat to the trunk, where we carried such of our domestic furniture as might have been injured by the damp. Our dwelling was indeed crowded: the animals and provisions below, and our beds and household goods around us, hemmed us in on every side; by degrees, by dint of patience and better packing, we obtained sufficient room to work and lie down in; by degrees, too, we became accustomed to the continual noise of the animals and the smell of the stables. The smoke from the fire, which we were occasionally obliged to light, was not agreeable; but in time even that seemed to become more bearable.

To make more space, we turned such animals as we had captured, and who therefore might be imagined to know how to shift for themselves, outside during the daytime, bringing them under the arched roots only at night. To perform this duty Fritz and I used to sally forth every evening, and as regularly every evening did we return soaked to the skin. To obviate this, my wife, who feared these continual wettings might injure our health, contrived waterproofs: she brushed on several layers of caoutchouc over stout shirts, to which she attached hoods; she then fixed to these duck trousers, and thus prepared for each of us a complete waterproof suit, clad in which we might brave the severest rain.

In spite of our endeavours to keep ourselves busy, the time dragged heavily. Our mornings were occupied in tending the animals; the boys amused themselves with their pets, and assisted me in the manufacture of carding-combs and a spindle for their mother. The combs I made with nails, which I placed head downwards on a sheet of tin about an inch wide; holding the nails in their proper positions I poured solder round their heads to fix them to the tin, which I then folded down on either side of them to keep them perfectly firm. In the evening, when our room was illuminated with wax candles, I wrote a journal of all the events which had occurred since our arrival in this foreign land; and, while my wife was busy with her needle and Ernest making sketches of birds, beasts and flowers with which he had met during the past months, Fritz and Jack taught little Franz to read.

Week after week rolled by. Week after week saw us still close prisoners. Incessant rain battered down above us, constant gloom hung over the desolate scene.

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