|« Prev||Chapter 4||Next »|
Next morning all were early awake, and the children sprang about the tree like young monkeys.
‘What shall we begin to do father?’ they cried. ‘What do you want us to do, today?’
‘Rest, my boys,’ I replied, ‘rest.’
‘Rest?’ repeated they. ‘Why should we rest?’
‘“Six days shalt thou labour and do all that thou hast to do, but on the seventh, thou shalt do no manner of work.” This is the seventh day,’ I replied, ‘on it, therefore, let us rest.’
‘What, is it really Sunday?’ said Jack, ‘How jolly! Oh, I won’t do any work; but I’ll take a bow and arrow and shoot, and we’ll climb about the tree and have fun all day.’
‘That is not resting,’ said I, ‘that is not the way you are accustomed to spend the Lord’s day.’
‘No! But then we can’t go to church here, and there is nothing else to do.’
‘We can worship here as well as at home,’ said I.
‘But there is no church, no clergyman and no organ,’ said Franz.
‘The leafy shade of this great tree is far more beautiful than any church,’ I said, ‘there will we worship our Creator.’
Having breakfasted, the family assembled round me, as we sat in the pleasant shade on the fresh, soft grass. After singing some hymns and offering heartfelt prayers to the Almighty Giver of all good, I related a parable instead of preaching a sermon, and then, leaving allegory, pressed simply and earnestly home to each young heart the truths I sought to teach; and, with a short prayer for a blessing on my words, brought the service to a close.
After a thoughtful pause, we separated, and each employed himself as he felt disposed.
I took some arrows, and endeavoured to point them with porcupine quills.
Franz came to beg me make a little bow and arrow for him to shoot with, while Fritz asked my advice about the tiger-cat skin and the cases he was to contrive from it. Jack assisted with the arrow-making, and inserting a sharp spine at one end of each reed made it fast with pack-thread, and began to wish for glue to ensure its remaining firm.
‘Oh, Jack! Mamma’s soup is as sticky as anything!’ cried Franz. ‘Shall I run and ask for a cake of it?’
‘No, no, little goose! Better look for some real glue in the tool-box.’
‘There he will find glue, to be sure,’ said I, ‘and the soup would scarcely have answered your purpose. But Jack, my boy, I do not like to hear you ridicule your little brother’s idea. Some of the most valuable discoveries have been the result of thoughts which originally appeared no wiser than his.’
While thus directing and assisting my sons, we were surprised by hearing a shot just over heads; at the same moment two small birds fell dead at our feet, and looking up, we beheld Ernest among the branches, as bending his face joyfully towards us, he cried, ‘Well hit! Well hit! A good shot wasn’t it?’
Then slipping down the ladder, and picking up the birds, he brought them to me. One was a kind of thrush, the other a small dove called the ortolan, and esteemed a very great delicacy on account of its exquisite flavour. As the figs on which these birds came to feed were only just beginning to ripen, it was probable that they would soon flock in numbers to our trees; and by waiting until we could procure them in large quantities, we might provide ourselves with valuable food for the rainy season, by placing them, when half cooked, in cases with melted lard or butter poured over them.
By this time Jack had pointed a good supply of arrows, and industriously practised archery. I finished the bow and arrows for Franz, and expected to be left in peace; but the young man next demanded a quiver, and I had to invent that also, to complete his equipment. It was easily done by stripping a piece of bark from a small tree, fitting a flat side and a bottom to it, and then a string. Attaching it to his shoulders, the youthful hunter filled it with arrows and went off; looking, as his mother said, like an innocent little Cupid, bent on conquest.
Not long after this, we were summoned to dinner, and all right willingly obeyed the call.
During the meal I interested the boys very much by proposing to decide on suitable names for the different spots we had visited on this coast.
‘For,’ said I, ‘it will become more and more troublesome to explain what we mean, unless we do so. Besides which, we shall feel much more at home if we can talk as people do in inhabited countries: instead of saying, for instance, “the little island at the mouth of our bay, where we found the dead shark”, “the large stream near our tent, across which we made the bridge”, “that wood where we found coconuts, and caught the monkey”, and so on. Let us begin by naming the bay in which we landed. What shall we call it?’
‘Oyster Bay,’ said Fritz.
‘No, no!—Lobster Bay,’ cried Jack, ‘in memory of the old fellow who took a fancy to my leg!’
‘I think,’ observed his mother, ‘that, in token of gratitude for our escape, we should call it Safety Bay.’
This name met with general approbation, and was forthwith fixed upon.
Other names were quickly chosen. Our first place of abode we called Tentholm; the islet in the bay, Shark’s Island; and the reedy swamp, Flamingo Marsh. It was some time before the serious question of a name for our leafy castle could be decided. But finally it was entitled Falconhurst22‘Horst’, in German, means ‘nest’ or ‘eyrie’.; and we then rapidly named the few remaining points: Prospect Hill, the eminence we first ascended; Cape Disappointment, from whose rocky heights we had strained our eyes in vain search for our ship’s company; and Jackal River, as a name for the large stream at our landing place, concluded our geographical nomenclature.
In the afternoon the boys went on with their various employments. Fritz finished his cases, and Jack asked my assistance in carrying out his plan of making a cuirass for Turk, out of the porcupine skin. After thoroughly cleansing the inside, we cut and fitted it round the body of the patient dog; then when strings were sewn on, and it became tolerably dry, he was armed with this ingenious coat of mail, and a most singular figure he cut!
Juno strongly objected to his friendly approaches, and got out of his way so fast as she could; and it was clear that he would easily put to flight the fiercest animal he might encounter, while protected by armour at once defensive and offensive.
I determined to make also a helmet for Jack out of the remainder of the skin, which to his infinite delight I speedily did.
Amid these interesting occupations the evening drew on, and after a pleasant walk among the sweet glades near our abode, we closed our Sabbath day with prayer and a glad hymn of praise, retiring to rest with peaceful hearts.
Next morning, I proposed an expedition to Tentholm, saying I wished to make my way thither by a different route. We left the tree well armed; I and my three elder sons each carrying a gun and game-bag, while little Franz was equipped with his bow and quiver full of arrows. A most curious party we formed: Fritz adorned with his belt of margay skin, and Jack, with his extraordinary headdress, looked like a couple of young savages. Their mother and I walked together; she, of the whole party, being the only one unarmed, carried a jar in which to get butter from Tentholm; we were preceded by the dogs Turk armed most effectually with his cuirass of porcupine skin, and Juno keeping at a respectful distance from so formidable a companion. Master Knips fully intended to mount his charger as usual; but when he saw him arrayed apparently in a new skin, he approached him carefully, and touching him with one paw, discovered that such a hide would make anything but an agreeable seat; the grimace he made was most comical, and chattering vociferously he bounded towards Juno, skipped on her back, seated himself, and soon appeared perfectly reconciled to the change of steed. The flamingo saw us starting, and, having been much petted during the last day or two, considered himself entitled to accompany us; for some time he kept beside the children, following first one and then another as they explored the wood on either side; their irregular course, however, at length disgusted him, and, abandoning them, he walked sedately by my side. We strolled on in the cool evening air, following the course of the stream. The boys roamed ahead of me, intent on exploration. Presently I heard a joyful shout, and saw Ernest running at full speed towards me, followed by his brothers. In his hand he held a plant, and, panting for breath, and with sparkling eyes, he held it up to me.
‘Potatoes! Potatoes, father,’ he gasped out.
‘Yes,’ said Jack, ‘acres and acres of potatoes!’
‘My dear Ernest,’ said I, for there was no mistaking the flower and leaf, and the light clear-green bulbous roots, ‘you have indeed made a discovery; with the potato we shall never starve.’
‘But come and look at them,’ said Jack, ‘come and feast your eyes on thousands of potatoes.’
We hurried to the spot: there, spread out before us, was a great tract of ground, covered with the precious plant.
‘It would have been rather difficult,’ remarked Jack, ‘not to have discovered such a great field.’
‘Very likely,’ replied Ernest, smiling, ‘but I doubt if you would have discovered that it was a potato field.’
‘Perhaps not,’ said Jack, ‘you are quite welcome, at all events, to the honour of the discovery; I’ll have the honour of being the first to get a supply of them.’ So saying, he dug up, with hands and knife, a number of plants, and filled his game-bag with the roots. The monkey followed his example, and scratching away with his paws most cleverly, soon had a heap beside him. So delighted were we with the discovery, and so eager were we to possess a large supply of the roots, that we stopped not digging until every bag, pouch and pocket was filled.
Some wished to return at once to Falconhurst, to cook and taste our new acquisition; but this I overruled, and we continued our march, heavily laden, but delighted.
We soon reached the head of our streamlet, where it fell from the rocks above in a beautiful, sparkling, splashing cascade. We crossed and entered the tall grass on the other side. We forced our way through with difficulty, so thick and tangled were the reeds. Beyond this, the landscape was most lovely. Rich tropical vegetation flourished on every side: the tall stately palms, surrounded by luxuriant ferns; brilliant flowers and graceful creepers; the prickly cactus, shooting up amidst them; aloe, jasmine and sweet-scented vanilla; the Indian pea and, above all, the regal pineapple, loaded the breath of the evening breeze with their rich perfume. The boys were delighted with the pineapple, and so eagerly did they fall to, that my wife had to caution them that there were no doctors on our territory, and that if they became ill, they would have to cure themselves as best they might.
This advice, however, seemed to have small effect on my sons, and showing Knips what they wanted, they sent him after the ripest and best fruit.
While they were thus employed, I examined the other shrubs and bushes. Among these I presently noticed one which I knew well from description to be the karatas.
‘Come here, boys,’ I said, ‘here is something of far more value than your pineapples. Do you see that plant with long pointed leaves and beautiful red flower? That is the karatas. The filaments of the leaves make capital thread, while the leaves themselves, bruised, form an invaluable salve. The pith of this wonderful plant may be used either for tinder or bait for fish. Suppose, Ernest, you had been wrecked here, how would you have made a fire without matches, or flint and steel?’
‘As the savages do,’ replied he, ‘I would rub two pieces of wood together until they kindled.’
‘Try it,’ I said, ‘but, if you please, try it when you have a whole day before you, and no other work to be done, for I am certain it would be night before you accomplished the feat. But see here,’ and I broke a dry twig from the karatas, and peeling off the bark, laid the pith upon a stone. I struck a couple of pebbles over it, and they emitting a spark, the pitch caught fire.
The boys were delighted with the experiment. I then drew some of the threads from the leaves, and presented them to my wife.
‘But what,’ said Fritz, ‘is the use of all these other prickly plants, except to annoy one? Here, for instance, is a disagreeable little tree.’
‘That is an Indian fig,’ said I. ‘It grows best on dry, rocky ground; for most of its nourishment is derived from the air. Its juice is used, I believe, medicinally, while its fruit is pleasant and wholesome.’
Master Jack was off in a moment when he heard of a new delicacy, and attempted to gather some of the fruit, but in vain; the sharp thorns defied his efforts, and with bleeding hands and rueful countenance, he returned. I removed the thorns from his hands, and making a sharp wooden skewer, I thrust it into a fig, and quickly twisted it from its branch and split it open with a knife, still holding it upon the skewer. The rest followed my example, and we regaled ourselves upon the fruit, which we found excellent. Ernest carefully examined the fig he was eating. ‘What are these’, he exclaimed, presently, ‘little red insects? They cling all over the fruit, and I cannot shake them off. Can they be cochineal?’
He handed me the fig, and I examined it attentively.
‘You are quite right, my boy,’ I said, ‘there is no doubt this is the real cochineal. However, though it is worth its weight in gold to European traders, it is of little use to us, I am afraid, unless any of you care to appear in gay colours. The cochineal, you know, forms the most lovely scarlet dye.’
‘No, thank you,’ said Jack, ‘but we will take a lot of it when we go home again. Now let us find something more useful to us.’ And they thereupon plied me incessantly with questions concerning every plant and shrub we passed.
‘Stop, stop,’ I said at length. ‘The most learned naturalist would be much puzzled with many of these trees; and I, who have never seen any of them before, and know them merely by description, cannot pretend to tell you the names, or explain to you the use of one quarter of them.’
Discussing, however, the properties of such shrubs as I did know, we at length reached Tentholm. Everything was safe, and we set to work to collect what we wanted. I opened the butter cask from which my wife filled her pot. Fritz saw after the ammunition, and Jack and Ernest ran down to the beach to capture the geese and ducks. This they found no easy matter, for the birds, left so long alone, were shy, and nothing would induce them to come on shore and be caught. Ernest at length hit upon an ingenious plan. He took some pieces of cheese, and tied them to long strings. This bait he threw into the water, and the hungry ducks instantly made a grab at it; then with a little skilful manœuvring he drew them on shore. While Jack and he were thus busily employed catching and tying the rebels together by the feet, we procured a fresh supply of salt, which we packed upon Turk’s back, first relieving him of his coat of mail. The birds we fastened to our game-bags, and carefully closing the door of our tent, started homewards by the sea-shore. After a cheerful and pleasant walk, we once more reached our woodland abode. I released the birds, and, clipping their wings to prevent their leaving us, established them on the stream. Then, after a delicious supper of potatoes, milk and butter, we ascended our tree and turned in.
Having remarked a great deal of driftwood on the sands the preceding evening, it occurred to me that it would be well to get some of it, and make a kind of sledge, so that the labour of fetching what we wanted from our stores at Tentholm might not fall so heavily on ourselves.
I awoke early and roused Ernest as my assistant, wishing to encourage him to overcome his natural fault of indolence. After a little stretching and yawning, he got up cheerfully, pleased with the idea of an expedition while the others still slept, and we made our way to the beach, taking with us the donkey, who drew a large broad bough, which I expected to find useful in bringing back our load.
As we went along, I remarked to Ernest that I supposed he was rather sorry for himself, and grudged leaving his cosy hammock and pleasant dreams at this untimely hour.
‘Oh, father, do not laugh at my laziness! Indeed I mean to cure myself of it. I am very glad to go with you. I intended to shoot some more of the ortolans this morning, but there will be plenty of time afterwards. The boys will be shooting at them, I daresay, but I don’t expect they will have any great luck.’
‘Why not, pray?’ inquired I.
‘I don’t believe they will know what shot to use at first, and, besides, they will most likely shoot upwards at the birds and be sure to miss them, on account of the great height and thickness of the branches and foliage.’
‘Well, Ernest, you certainly possess the gifts of prudence and reflection, as well as observation. These are valuable; but sudden action is so often necessary in life, that I advise you to cultivate the power of instantly perceiving and deciding what must be done in cases of emergency.’
Once on the seashore, our work was quickly accomplished, for selecting the wood I thought fit for my purpose, we laid it across the broad leafy branch, and, with some help from us, the donkey dragged a very fair load of it homewards, with the addition of a small chest which I raised from among the sand which nearly covered it.
We heard the boys popping away at the birds as we drew near. They hastened to meet us, and inquired where we had been, looking curiously at the chest, which I allowed them to open, while I asked my wife to excuse our ‘absence without leave’; and after submitting to her gentle reprimand, I explained my plan for a sledge, which pleased her greatly, and she already imagined it loaded with her hogshead of butter, and on its way from Tentholm to Falconhurst.
The chest proved to be merely that of a common sailor, containing his clothes, very much wetted by the sea water.
The boys exhibited an array of several dozen birds, and related, during breakfast, the various incidents of failure and success which had attended their guns. Ernest had rightly guessed the mistakes they would make, but practice was making them perfect, and they seemed disposed to continue their sport, when their mother, assuring them that she could not use more birds than those already killed, asked if I did not think some means of snaring them might be contrived, as much powder and shot would be expended if they fired on at this rate.
Entirely agreeing with this view of the subject, I desired the lads to lay aside their guns for the present, and the younger ones readily applied themselves to making snares of the long threads drawn from the leaves of the karatas in a simple way I taught them, while Fritz and Ernest gave me substantial assistance in the manufacture of the new sledge.
We were busily at work, when a tremendous disturbance among our fowls led us to suppose that a fox or wild cat had got into their midst.
The cocks crowed defiantly, the hens fluttered and cackled in a state of the wildest excitement. We hastened towards them, but Ernest remarking Master Knips slipping away, as though conscious of some misdemeanour, went to watch him, and presently caught him in the act of eating a new-laid egg, which he had carried off and hidden among the grass and roots. Ernest found several others. These were very welcome to my wife, for hitherto the hens had not presented us with any eggs. Hereafter she determined to imprison the monkey every morning until the eggs had been collected.
Soon after this, as Jack was setting the newly made snares among the branches, he discovered that a pair of our own pigeons were building in the tree. It was very desirable to increase our stock of these pretty birds, and I cautioned the boys against shooting near our tree while they had nests there, and also with regard to the snares, which were meant only to entrap the wild-fig-eaters.
Although my sons were interested in setting the snares, they by no means approved of the new order to economize on ammunition. No doubt they had been discussing this hardship, for little Franz came to me with a brilliant proposal of his own.
‘Papa,’ said he, ‘why should not we begin to plant some powder and shot immediately? It would be so much more useful than bare grain for the fowls.’
His brothers burst into a roar of laughter, and I must confess I found it no easy matter to keep my countenance.
‘Come, Ernest,’ said I, ‘now we have had our amusement, tell the little fellow what gunpowder really is.’
‘It is not seed at all, Franz,’ Ernest explained. ‘Gunpowder is made of charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre, mixed cleverly together; so you see it cannot be sown like corn, any more than shot can be planted like peas and beans.’
My carpenting meantime went on apace. In order to shape my sledge with ends properly turned up in front, I had chosen wood which had been part of the bow of the vessel, and was curved in the necessary way for my purpose. Two pieces, perfectly similar, formed the sides of my sleigh, or sledge, and I simply united these strongly by fixing short bars across them. Then, when the ropes of the donkey’s harness were attached to the raised points in front, the equipage was complete and ready for use.
Early in the afternoon Ernest and I were ready to be off. Fritz presented us each with a neat case of margay skin to hang at our girdles.
We harnessed both cow and ass to the sledge and, accompanied by Juno, cheerfully took our departure, choosing the way by the sands, and reaching Tentholm without accident or adventure.
There, unharnessing the animals, we began at once to load the sledge, not only with the butter-cask, but with a powder-chest, a barrel of cheese, and a variety of other articles—ball, shot, tools and Turk’s armour, which had been left behind on our last visit.
Our work had so closely engaged our attention, that when we were ready to leave it and go in search of a good bathing-place, we discovered that our two animals had wandered quite out of sight, having crossed the bridge to reach the good pasture beyond the river.
I sent Ernest after them, and went alone to the extremity of the bay. It terminated in bold and precipitous cliffs, which extended into the deep water, and rose abruptly so as to form an inaccessible wall of rock and crag. Swampy ground, overgrown with large canes, intervened between me and these cliffs. I cut a large bundle of the reeds, and returned to Ernest. It was some time before I found him, comfortably extended full length on the ground near the tent, and sleeping as sound as a top, while the cow and the ass, grazing at will, were again making for the bridge.
‘Get up, Ernest, you lazy fellow!’ exclaimed I, much annoyed, ‘Why don’t you mind your business? Look at the animals! They will be over the river again!’
‘No fear of that, father,’ returned he, with the utmost composure. ‘I have taken a couple of boards off the bridge. They won’t pass the gap.’
I could not help laughing at the ingenious device by which the boy had spared himself all trouble; at the same time I observed that it is wrong to waste the precious moments in sleep when duty has to be performed. I then bid him go and collect some salt, which was wanted at home, while I went to bathe.
On coming back, much refreshed, I again missed Ernest, and began to wonder whether he was still gathering salt, or whether he had lain down somewhere to finish his nap, when I heard him loudly calling, ‘Father, father! I’ve caught a fish! An immense fellow he is. I can scarcely hold him, he drags the line so!’
Hastening towards the spot, I saw the boy lying in the grass, on a point of land close to the mouth of the stream, and with all his might keeping hold of a rod. The line was strained to the utmost by the frantic efforts of a very large fish, which was attempting to free itself from the hook.
I quickly took the rod from him, and giving the fish more line, led him by degrees into shallow water. Ernest ran in with his hatchet and killed him.
It proved to be a salmon of full fifteen pounds weight, and I was delighted to think of taking such a valuable prize to them.
‘This is capital, Ernest!’ cried I. ‘You have cleared yourself for once of the charge of laziness! Let us now carry this splendid salmon to the sledge. I will clean and pack it for the journey, that it may arrive in good condition, while you go and take a bath in the sea.’
All this being accomplished, we harnessed our beasts to the well-laden vehicle, and replacing the boards on the bridge, commenced the journey home.
We kept inland this time, and were skirting the borders of a grassy thicket, when Juno suddenly left us, and plunging into the bushes, with fierce barking hunted out, right in front of us, the most singular-looking creature I ever beheld. It was taking wonderful flying leaps, apparently in a sitting posture, and got over the ground at an astonishing rate. I attempted to shoot it as it passed, but missed. Ernest, who was behind me, observed its movements very coolly, and seeing that the dog was puzzled, and that the animal, having paused, was crouching among the grass, went cautiously nearer, fired at the spot he had marked, and shot it dead.
The extraordinary appearance of this creature surprised us very much. It was as large as a sheep, its head was shaped like that of a mouse; its skin also was of a mouse-colour, it had long ears like a hare, and a tail like a tiger’s. The fore-paws resembled those of a squirrel, but they seemed only half-grown while the hind legs were enormous, and so long, that when upright on them the animal would look as if mounted on stilts.
For some time we stood silently wondering at the remarkable creature before us. I could not recollect to have seen or heard of any such.
‘Well, father,’ said Ernest at last, ‘I should say this was about the queerest beast to be met with anywhere. I am glad I knocked it over. How they will all stare when I carry it home!’
‘You have had a lucky day altogether, certainly,’ said I, ‘but I cannot think what this animal can be. Examine its teeth, and let us see to what class of mammalia it belongs. We may be led to guess at its name in that way.’
‘I see four sharp incisor teeth, father—two upper, and two under, as a squirrel has.’
‘Ah! Then he is a rodent. What rodents can you remember, Ernest?’
‘I do not know them all, but there are the mouse, the marmot, the squirrel, the hare, the beaver, the jerboa—’
‘The jerboa!’ I exclaimed, ‘The jerboa! Now we shall have it. This is really very like a jerboa, only far larger. It must be a kangaroo, one of the class of animals which has a pouch or purse beneath the body, in which its young can take refuge. They were discovered in New Holland, by the great Captain Cook, and I congratulate you on being the first to obtain a specimen in New Switzerland!’ I added, laughing, as I extemporised the name.
The kangaroo was added to the already heavy load on our sledge, and we proceeded slowly, arriving late at Falconhurst, but meeting with the usual bright welcome.
Very eager and inquisitive were the glances turned towards the sledge, for the load piled on it surpassed all expectation: we on our part staring in equal surprise at the extraordinary rig of the young folks who came to meet us.
One wore a long night-shirt, which, with a belt, was a convenient length in front, but trailed behind in orthodox ghost fashion.
Another had on a very wide pair of trousers, braced up so short that each little leg looked like the clapper in a bell.
The third, buttoned up in a pea-jacket which came down to his ankles, looked for all the world like a walking portmanteau.
Amid much joking and laughter, my wife explained that she had been washing all day, and while their clothes were drying, the boys amused themselves by dressing up in things they found while rummaging the sailor’s chest, and had kept them on, that Ernest and I might see the masquerade. It certainly amused us, but made me regret that so little belonging to ourselves had been saved from the wreck, in consequence of which the children had scarcely a change of linen.
Turning now to our new acquisitions, we excited great interest by exhibiting each in turn; the large salmon, but more especially the kangaroo, surprised and delighted everyone.
Fritz alone wore a look expressive of dissatisfaction, and I saw that he was envious of his younger brother’s success. Vexed that so noble a prize had fallen to Ernest’s gun, instead of his own, he treated it rather slightingly; but I could see that he was struggling against his jealous feelings, and he, after a while, succeeded in recovering his good humour, and joined pleasantly in the conversation.
‘What a famous day’s sport you have had altogether!’ said he, coming close up to me. ‘It will be my turn to go out with you next, will it not, father? Just about here there is nothing to shoot, and I have found it very dull.’
‘Still you have been doing your duty, my dear boy; you were entrusted with the care of the family, and a youth of manly character will not depend for happiness on mere excitement.
As the shades of night approached, we made haste to conclude the day’s work, by preparing the kangaroo, part for immediate use, and part for salting. The animals were fed, and a plentiful allowance of salt made to them. Our own supper of broiled salmon and potatoes was dispatched with great appetite, and we retired, with thankful hearts, to sound and well-earned repose.
|« Prev||Chapter 4||Next »|