The Swiss Family Robinson (Kingston)/Chapter 15
Trial of the Cajack—Fritz kills a walrus—We carry home its head—The storm—Where is Fritz?—Safe at last—The fishing season—An expedition proposed—Three of the boys start for Woodlands—Pigeon post—Encounter with a hyæna—Wood Lake explored—A tapir—Prospect Hill pillaged—A tragedy—The boys in danger—We join them—We build a summer-house—Discover the cacao plant—Fritz ascends the stream—He sees elephants and hippopotami—Jack's “moist secret”—We return to Rockburg—Grace and Beauty—Shark Island is fortified.
At last came the day when Fritz was to make his trial trip with the cajack. Completely equipped in swimming costume—trousers, jacket, and cap—it was most ludicrous to see him cower down in the canoe and puff and blow till he began to swell like the frog in the fable.
All trace of his original figure was speedily lost, and shouts of laughter greeted his comical appearance. Even his mother could not resist a smile, although the dress was her own invention.
I got the other boat out, that my wife might see we were ready to go to his assistance the moment it became necessary.
The cajack was launched from a convenient shelving point, and floated lightly on the sea-green ocean mirror. Fritz with his paddles then began to practise all manner of evolutions: darting along with arrowy swiftness, wheeling to the right, then to the left; and at last, flinging himself quite on his side, while his mother uttered a shriek of terror, he showed that the tiny craft would neither capsize nor sink. Then, recovering his balance, he sped securely on his further way.
Encouraged by our shouts of approbation, he now boldly ventured into the strong current of Jackal River, and was rapidly carried out to sea.
This being more than I had bargained for, I lost no time in giving chase in the boat, with Ernest and Jack; my wife, urging us to greater speed, and declaring that some accident could not fail to happen to “that horrid soap-bubble.”
We soon arrived outside the bay, at the rocks where formerly lay the wreck, and gazed in all directions for signs of the runaway.
After a time we saw, at a considerable distance, a faint puff of smoke, followed by the crack of a pistol. Upon this we fired a signal shot, which was presently answered by another, and, steering in the direction of the sound, we soon heard the boy's cheery halloo; the cajack darted from behind a point of land, and we quickly joined company.
"Come to this rocky beach," cried Fritz, "I have something to show you."
With blank amazement we beheld a fine well-grown young walrus, harpooned and quite dead.
"Did you kill this creature, my dear Fritz?" I exclaimed, talking round in some anxiety, and half expecting to see a naked savage come to claim the prize.
“To be sure, father! don't you see my harpoon? Why do you doubt it?”
“Well, I scarcely know,” replied I, laughing; “but success so speedy, so unexpected, and so appropriate, to an amateur Greenlander, took me by surprise. I congratulate you, my boy! But I must tell you that you have alarmed us by making this long trip. You should not have gone out of the bay. I left your mother in grievous trouble.”
“Indeed, father, I had no idea of passing out of sight, but once in the current, I was carried along, and could not help myself. Then I came on a herd of walruses, and I did so long to make a prize of one that I forgot everything else, and made chase after them when beyond the influence of the current, until I got near enough to harpoon this fine fellow. He swam more slowly, and I struck him a second time; then he sought refuge among these rocks, and expired. I landed, and scrambled to where he lay; but I took care to give him the contents of my pistol before going close up, having a salutary recollection of the big serpent's parting fling at you, Jack.”
“You ran a very great risk,” said I. “The walrus is an inoffensive creature; but when attacked and wounded, it often becomes furious, and, turning upon its pursuer, can destroy, with its long tusks, a strongly-built whale-boat. However, thank God for your safety! I value that above a thousand such creatures. Now what's to be done with him? He must be quite fourteen feet long, although not full grown.”
“I am very glad you followed me, father,” said Fritz; “but our united strength will not move this prodigious weight from among these rocks; only do let me carry away the head, with these grand snow-white tusks! I should so like to fasten it on the prow of the cajack, and name it the Sea-horse”
“We must certainly carry away the beautiful ivory tusks,” said I; “but make haste! the air feels so excessively close and sultry, I think a storm is brewing.”
“But the head! the head! we must have the whole head,” cried Jack; “just think how splendid it will look on the cajack!”
“And how splendid it will smell too, when it begins to putrify,” added Ernest; “what a treat for the steersman!”
“Oh, we will prepare for that,” said Fritz; “it shall be soaked, and cleaned, and dried till it is as hard as a wooden model; it shall not offend your delicate nose in the least, Ernest!”
“I supposed the walrus to be an animal peculiar to the Arctic regions,” remarked Ernest.
“And so it is,” I replied; “though they may occasionally be seen elsewhere; these may have wandered from the Antarctic seas. I know that on the eastern coast of Africa is found a smaller species of walrus called the Dugong: it has long incisor teeth, but not tusks; and certainly resembles a seal rather than a walrus.”
While thus speaking, we were actively engaged in the decapitation of the walrus, and in cutting off long strips of its skin. This took some time, as we had not the proper implements, and Fritz remarked, that in future the cajack must be provided with a hunting-knife and a hatchet; adding that he should like to have a small compass in a box, with a glass-top, fixed in front of the hole where the steersman sits. I saw the necessity of this, and I promised it should be done.
Our work being accomplished, we were ready to go, and I proposed to take Fritz and the canoe on board our boat, so that we might all arrive together; but I yielded to his earnest wish to return alone as he came: he longed to act as our avant-courier, and announce our approach to his mother; so he was soon skimming away over the surface of the water, while we followed at a slower rate.
Black clouds meanwhile gathered thick and fast around us, and a tremendous storm came on. Fritz was out of sight, and beyond our reach.
We buckled on the swimming belts, and firmly lashed ourselves to the boat, so that we might not be washed overboard by the towering seas which broke over it.
The horizon was shrouded in darkness, fearful gusts of wind lashed the ocean into foam, rain descended in torrents, while livid lightning glared athwart the gloom. Both my boys faced the danger nobly; and my feelings of alarm were mingled with hope on finding how well the boat behaved.
The tempest swept on its way, and the sky began to clear as suddenly as it had been overcast; yet the stormy waves continued for a long time to threaten our frail bark with destruction, in spite of its buoyancy and steadiness.
Yet I never lost hope for ourselves—all my fears were for Fritz; in fact I gave him up for lost, and my whole agonized heart arose in prayer for strength to say, “Thy will be done!”
At last we rounded the point, and once more entering Safety Bay, quickly drew near the little harbour.
What was our surprise—our overwhelming delight—when there we saw the mother with Fritz, as well as her little boy, on their knees in prayer so earnest for our deliverance, that our approach was unperceived, until with cries of joy we attracted their notice. Then indeed ensued a happy meeting, and we gave thanks together for the mercy which had spared our lives.
Returning joyfully to Rockburg, we changed our drenched garments for warm dry clothes; and, seated at a comfortable meal, considered and described at our ease the perils of the storm.Afterwards, the head of the walrus was conveyed to our workshop; where it underwent such a skilful and thorough process of cleaning, embalming and drying, that ere long it was actually fixed on the prow of the cajack, and a most imposing appearance it presented!
The strips of hide, when well-tanned and prepared, made valuable leather.
Much damage had been done by the late storm. The heavy rain had flooded all the streams, and injured crops which should have been housed and safe before the regular rainy season.
The bridge over Jackal River was partly broken down, and the water-tanks and pipes all needed repair. So that our time was much occupied in restoring things to order.
On going to work one day near the cascade, we found a great number of dark red berries, scattered on the ground; they were about the size of ordinary hazel-nuts, with small leafy coronets at the tip.
The boys thought them so inviting, that they tasted them at once, but angry exclamations and much spitting and spluttering followed the experiment; even Knips rejected them, and they would have been cast aside with contempt, had not the smell induced me to examine them. I decided that this was the fruit of the clove.
Some plants were immediately set in the nursery garden, and my wife was pleased to have this excellent spice wherewith to flavour her boiled rice and other dishes, in lieu of pepper—a very welcome variety to every one.
Having a good supply of clay, brought from the bed near Falconhurst, I proposed to use it for making aqueducts; and, observing how much the recent rain had promoted the growth of our young corn, I determined to irrigate the fields with the drainage from our crushing mill.
The fishing season was again successful. Large takes of salmon, sturgeon, and herring rewarded our annual exertions, and our store-room again assumed a well-stocked appearance. Much as I wished that we could obtain a constant supply of these fish fresh, I was obliged to reject the naïve proposal from Jack, that we should tether a shoal of salmon by the gills to the bottom of the bay as we had secured the turtles.
Many quiet uneventful days passed by, and I perceived that the boys, wearied by the routine of farm work at Rockburg, were longing for a cruise in the yacht or an expedition into the woods, which would refresh both mind and body.
“Father,” said Fritz at length, “we want a quantity of hurdles, and have scarcely any more bamboos of which to make them. Had we not better get a supply from Woodlands? And you said, too, the other day, that you wished you had some more of the fine clay: we might visit the Gap at the same time.”
I had really no objection to propose; and it was shortly afterwards settled that Fritz, Jack, and Franz should start together; and that Ernest, who had no great desire to accompany his brothers, should remain with his mother and me, and assist in the construction of a sugar-mill, the erection of which I had long contemplated.
Before they started, Fritz begged some bear's meat from the mother, to make pemmican.
“And what may pemmican be?” she asked.
“It is food carried by the fur-traders of North America on their long journeys through the wild country they traverse; and consists of bear or deer's flesh, first cooked and then pounded or ground to powder. It is very portable, and nourishing.”
His mother consented “to humour him,” as she said, although without much faith in the value of the preparation; and in the course of two days a stock of pemmican, sufficient for a Polar expedition, was fabricated by our enthusiastic son.
They were ready to start, when I observed Jack quietly slip a basket, containing several pigeons, under the packages in the cart.
“Oh, oh!” thought I, “the little fellow has his doubts about that pemmican, and thinks a tough old pigeon would be preferable.”
The weather was exquisite; and, with exhortations to prudence and caution from both me and their mother, the three lads started in the very highest spirits. Storm and Grumble, as usual, drew the cart, and were ridden by Fritz and Franz; while Hurry carried Jack swiftly across the bridge in advance of them; followed by Floss and Bruno, barking at his heels.
The sugar-mill occupied us for several days, and was made so much like our other mills that I need not now describe it.
On the evening of the first day, as we sat resting in the porch at Rockburg, we naturally talked of the absentees, wondering and guessing what they might be about.
Ernest looked rather mysterious, and hinted that he might have news of them next morning.
Just then a bird alighted on the dovecot, and entered. I could not see, in the failing light, whether it was one of our own pigeons or an intruder. Ernest started up, and said he would see that all was right.
In a few minutes he returned with a scrap of paper in his hand.
“News, father! The very latest news by pigeon-post, mother!”
“Well done, boys! what a capital idea!” said I, and taking the note I read:
“Dearest Parents and Ernest,—
“A brute of a hyæna has killed a ram and two lambs. The dogs seized it. Franz shot it. It is dead and skinned. The pemmican isn't worth much, but we are all right. Love to all.
“Woodlands, 15th instant.”
“A true hunter's letter!” laughed I; “but what exciting news. When does the next post come in, Ernest?”
“To-night, I hope,” said he, while his mother sighed, and doubted the value of such glimpses into the scenes of danger through which her sons were passing, declaring she would much rather wait and hear all about it when she had them safe home again.
Thus the winged letter-carriers kept us informed from day to day of the outline of adventures which were afterwards more fully described.
On approaching the farm at, Woodlands, the boys were startled by hearing, as they thought, human laughter, repeated again and again; while, to their astonishment, the oxen testified the greatest uneasiness, the dogs growled and drew close to their masters, and the ostrich fairly bolted with Jack into the rice swamp.
The laughter continued, and the beasts became unmanageable.
“Something is very far wrong!” cried Fritz. “I cannot leave the animals; but while I unharness them, do you Franz, take the dogs, and advance cautiously to see what is the matter.”
Without a moment's hesitation, Franz made his way among the bushes with his gun, and closely followed by the dogs; until, through an opening in the thicket, he could see, at the distance of about forty paces, an enormous hyæna, in the most wonderful state of excitement; dancing round a lamb just killed, and uttering, from time to time, the ghastly hysterical laughter which had pealed through the forest.
The beast kept running backwards and forwards, rising on its hind legs, and then rapidly whirling round and round, nodding its head, and going through most frantic and ludicrous antics.
Franz kept his presence of mind very well; for he watched till, calming down, the hyæna began with horrid growls to tear its prey; and then, firing steadily both barrels, he broke its fore-leg, and wounded it in the breast.
Meanwhile Fritz, having unyoked the oxen and secured them to trees, hurried to his brother's assistance. The dogs and the dying hyæna were by this time engaged in mortal strife; but the latter, although it severely wounded both Floss and Bruno, speedily succumbed, and was dead when the boys reached the spot. They raised a shout of triumph, which guided Jack to the scene of action; and their first care was for the dogs, whose wounds they dressed before minutely examining the hyæna. It was as large as a wild boar; long stiff bristles formed a mane on its neck, its colour was grey, marked with black, the teeth and jaws were of extraordinary strength, the thighs muscular and sinewy, the claws remarkably strong and sharp altogether. But for his wounds, he would certainly have been more than a match for the dogs.
After unloading the cart at the farm, the boys returned for the carcase of the tiger-wolf, as it is sometimes called, and occupied themselves in skinning it during the remainder of the day, when, after despatching the carrier-pigeon to Rockburg, they retired to rest on their bearskin rugs, to dream of adventures past and future.
The following day they devised no less a scheme than to survey the shores of Wood Lake, and place marks wherever the surrounding marsh was practicable, and might be crossed either to reach the water or leave it.
Fritz in the cajack, and the boys on shore, carefully examined the ground together; and when they found firm footing to the water's edge, the spot was indicated by planting a tall bamboo, bearing on high a bundle of reeds and branches.
They succeeded in capturing three young black swans, after considerable resistance from the old ones. They were afterwards brought to Rockburg, and detained as ornaments to Safety Bay.
Presently a beautiful heron thrust his long neck from among the reeds, to ascertain what all the noise on the lake was about. Before he could satisfy his curiosity, Fritz unhooded his eagle, and though vainly he flapped and struggled, his legs and wings were gently but firmly bound, and he had to own himself vanquished, and submit to the inspection of his delighted captors.
It was their turn to be alarmed next, for a large powerful animal came puffing with a curious whistling sound through the dense thicket of reeds, passing close by and sorely discomposing them by its sudden appearance. It was out of sight immediately, before they could summon the dogs, and from their description it must have been a tapir, the colour dark brown, and in form resembling a young rhinoceros, but with no horn on the nose, and the upper lip prolonged into a trunk something like that of an elephant on a smaller scale. It is a gentle creature, but when attacked becomes a fierce opponent, and can wound dogs dangerously with its powerful teeth.
The tapir can swim and dive with perfect ease, and abounds in the densely wooded swamps and rivers of tropical America.
Fritz in his cajack followed for a time the direction in which the tapir proceeded, but saw no more of it.
Meanwhile the other two boys returned to the farm by the rice-fields, and there fell in with a flock of cranes, five or six of which they caught alive, among them two demoiselles or Numidian cranes. These birds they shot at with arrows arranged in a skilful and original way, with loops of cord dipped in birdlime attached to them, so that it often happened that the bird aimed at, was entangled and brought down uninjured.The young hunters seemed to have lived very comfortably on peccary ham, cassava bread and fruit, and plenty of baked potatoes and milk.
One trial of the pemmican was sufficient, and it was handed over to the dogs. Fritz, however, determined again to attempt the manufacture, knowing its value when properly prepared.
After collecting a supply of rice and cotton, they took their way to Prospect Hill; “and,” said Fritz, as he afterwards vividly described the dreadful scene there enacted, “when we entered the pine wood, we found it in possession of troops of monkeys, who resolved to make our passage through it as disagreeable as possible, for they howled and chattered at us like demons, pelting us as hard as they could with pine cones.
“They became so unbearable, that at last we fired a few shots right and left among them; several bit the dust, the rest fled, and we continued our way in peace to Prospect Hill, but only to discover the havoc the wretches had made there.
“Would you believe it, father? The pleasant cottage had been over-run and ruined by apes just as Woodlands last summer! The most dreadful dirt and disorder met our eyes wherever we turned, and we had hard work to make the place fit for human habitation; and even then we preferred the tent. I felt quite at a loss how to guard the farm for the future; but seeing a bottle of the poisonous gum of the Euphorbia in the tool chest, I devised a plan for the destruction of the apes which succeeded beyond my expectations.
“I mixed poison with milk, bruised millet, and anything I thought the monkeys would eat, and put it in cocoa-nut shells, which I hung about in the trees, high enough to be out of reach of our own animals. The evening was calm and lovely; the sea murmured in the distance, and the rising moon shed a beauty over the landscape which we seemed never before to have so admired and enjoyed. The summer night closed around us in all its solemn stillness, and our deepest feelings were touched; when suddenly the spell was broken by an outburst of the most hideous and discordant noises. As by one consent, every beast of the forest seemed to arise from its den, and utter its wild nocturnal cry. Snorting, snarling, and shrieking filled the woods beneath us.
“From the hills echoed the mournful howl of jackals, answered by Fangs in the yard, who was backed up by the barking and yelping of his friends Floss and Bruno. Far away beyond the rocky fastnesses of the Gap, sounded unearthly hollow snortings and neighings, reminding one of the strange cry of the hippopotamus; above these, occasional deep majestic roarings made our hearts quail with the conviction that we heard the voices of lions and elephants.“Overawed and silent, we retired to rest, hoping to forget in sleep the terrors of the midnight forest; but ere long the most fearful cries in the adjoining woods gave notice that the apes were beginning to suffer from the poisoned repast prepared for them.
“As our dogs could not remain silent amid the uproar and din, we had not a wink of sleep until the morning. It was late, therefore, when we rose, and looked on the awful spectacle presented by the multitude of dead monkeys and baboons thickly strewn under the trees round the farm. I shall not tell you how many there were. I can only say I wished I had not found the poison, and we made all haste to clear away the dead bodies and the dangerous food, burying some deep in the earth, and, carrying the rest to the shore, we pitched them over the rocks into the sea. That day we travelled on to the Gap.”
The same evening that the boys reached the rocky pass, a messenger pigeon arrived at Rockburg, bearing a note which concluded in the following words:—
“The barricade at the Gap is broken down. Everything laid waste as far as the sugar brake, where the hut is knocked to pieces, and the fields trampled over by huge foot-marks. Come to us, father—we are safe, but feel we are no match for this unknown danger.”
I lost not an instant, but saddled Swift, late as it was, in order to ride to the assistance of our boys, desiring Ernest to prepare the small cart, and follow me with his mother at daybreak, bringing everything we should require for camping out for some days.
The bright moonlight favoured my journey, and my arrival at the Gap surprised and delighted the boys, who did not expect me till next day. Early on the following morning I inspected the foot-prints and ravages of the great unknown. The cane brake had, without doubt, been visited by an elephant. That great animal alone could have left such traces and committed such fearful ravages. Thick posts in the barricade were snapped across like reeds; the trees in the vicinity, where we planned to build a cool summer-house, were stripped of leaves and branches to a great height, but the worst mischief was done among the young sugar-cane plants, which were all either devoured or trampled down and destroyed.
It seemed to me that not one elephant, but a troop must have invaded our grounds. The tracks were very numerous, and the foot-prints of various sizes; but, to my satisfaction, I saw that they could be traced not only from the Gap, but back to it in evidently equal numbers.
We did not, therefore, suppose that the mighty animals remained hidden in the woods of our territory; but concluded that, after this freebooting incursion, they had withdrawn to their native wilds, where, by greatly increasing the strength of our ramparts, we hoped henceforth to oblige them to remain.In what manner to effect this we laid many plans, during the night of my arrival, when, sitting by an enormous watch-fire, I chatted with my boys, and heard details of their numerous adventures, so interesting for them to relate, and for me to hear, that every one was more disposed to act sentinel than retire to sleep.
The mother and Ernest arrived next day, and she rejoiced to find all well, making light of trodden fields and trampled sugar-canes, since her sons were sound in life and limb.
A systematic scheme of defence was now elaborated, and the erection of the barricade occupied us for at least a month, as it was to be a firm and durable building, proof against all invasion. As our little tent was unsuited to a long residence of this sort, I adopted Fritz's idea of a Kamschatchan dwelling, and, to his great delight, forthwith carried it out.
Instead of planting four posts, on which to place a platform, we chose four trees of equal size, which in a very suitable place, grew exactly in a square, twelve or fourteen feet apart. Between these, at about twenty feet from the ground, we laid a flooring of beams and bamboo, smoothly and strongly planked. From this rose, on all four sides, walls of cane; the frame of the roof was covered so effectually by large pieces of bark that no rain could penetrate.
The staircase to this tree-cottage was simply a broad plank with bars nailed across it for steps. The flooring projected like a balcony in front of the entrance door, and underneath, on the ground, we fitted up sheds for cattle and fowls.
Various ornaments in Chinese or Japanese style were added to the roof and eaves, and a most convenient, cool, and picturesque cottage, overhung and adorned by the graceful foliage of the trees, was the result of our ingenuity.
I was pleased to find that the various birds taken by the boys during this excursion seemed likely to thrive; they were the first inmates of the new sheds, and even the black swans and cranes soon became tame and sociable.
Constantly roaming through the woods, the children often made new discoveries.
Fritz brought one day, after an excursion to the opposite side of the stream beyond the Gap, a cluster of bananas, and also of cacao-beans, from which chocolate is made.
The banana, although valuable and nourishing food for the natives of the tropical countries where it grows, is not generally liked by Europeans, and probably this variety was even inferior to many others, for we found the fruit much like rotten pears, and almost uneatable.
The cacao seeds tasted exceedingly bitter, and it seemed wonderful that by preparation they should produce anything so delicious as chocolate.
My wife, who now fancied no manufacture beyond my skill, begged for plants, seeds, or cuttings to propagate in her nursery garden, already fancying herself in the enjoyment of chocolate for breakfast, and I promised to make a cacao plantation near home.
“Let me have bananas also,” said she, “for we may acquire a taste for that celebrated fruit, and, at all events, I am sure I can make it into an excellent preserve.”
The day before our return to Rockburg, Fritz went again to the inland region beyond the river to obtain a large supply of young banana plants, and the cacao fruit. He took the cajack, and a bundle of reeds to float behind him as a raft to carry the fruit, plants, and anything else he might wish to bring back.
In the evening he made his appearance, coming swiftly down stream. His brothers rushed to meet him, each eager to see and help to land his cargo.
Ernest and Fritz were quickly running up the bank, with arms full of plants, branches, and fruit, when Fritz handed to Jack a dripping wet bag which he had brought along partly under water. A curious pattering noise proceeded from this bag, but they kept the contents a secret for the present, Jack running with it behind a bush before peeping in, and I could just hear him exclaim,—
“Hollo! I say, what monsters they are! It's enough to make a fellow's flesh creep to look at them!”
With that he hastily shut up the bag, and put it away safely out of sight in water.
Securing the cajack, Fritz sprang towards us, his handsome face radiant with pleasure, as he exhibited a beautiful water-fowl.
Its plumage was rich purple, changing on the back to dark green; the legs, feet, and a mark above the bill, bright red. This lovely bird I concluded to be the Sultan cock described by Buffon, and as it was gentle, we gladly received it among our domestic pets.
Fritz gave a stirring account of his exploring trip, having made his way far up the river, between fertile plains and majestic forests of lofty trees, where the cries of vast numbers of birds, parrots, peacocks, guinea fowls, and hundreds unknown to him, quite bewildered, and made him feel giddy.
“It was in the Buffalo Swamp,” continued he, “that I saw the splendid birds you call Sultan cocks, and I set my heart on catching one alive, which, as they seemed to have little fear of my approach, I managed by means of a wire snare. Farther on I saw a grove of mimosa trees, among which huge dark masses were moving in a deliberate way. Guess what they were!”
“Savages?” asked Franz timidly.
“Black bears, I bet!” cried Jack.
“Your words suggest to my mind the manner and appearance of elephants,” said Ernest.
“Right you are, Professor!” exclaimed Fritz gaily, the words producing quite a sensation on the whole attentive family. “From fifteen to twenty elephants were feeding peacefully on the leafy boughs, tearing down branches with their trunks and shoving them into their mouths with one jerk, or bathing in the deep waters of the marsh for refreshment in the great heat. You cannot imagine the wild grandeur of the scene! The river being very broad, I felt safe from wild animals, and more than once saw splendid jaguars crouched on the banks, their glossy skin glancing in the sunlight.
“While considering if it would be simply fool-hardy to try a shot at one of these creatures, I was suddenly convinced that discretion is the better part of valour, and urging my canoe into the centre current, made a rapid retreat down the river. For just before me, in the calm deep water of a sheltered bay where I was quietly floating, there arose a violent boiling, bubbling commotion, and for an instant I thought a hot spring was going to burst forth—instead of that, up rose the hideous head and gaping jaws of a hippopotamus, who, with a hoarse terrific snort, seemed about to attack me. I can tell you I did not wait to see the rest of him! a glimpse of his enormous mouth and its array of white gleaming tusks was quite enough. ‘Right about face!’ said I to myself, and shot down the stream like an arrow, never pausing till a bend in the river brought me within sight of the Gap, where I once more felt safe, and joyfully made my way back to you all.”
This narrative was of thrilling interest to us, proving the existence of tribes of the most formidable animals beyond the rocky barrier which defended, in so providential a manner, the small and fertile territory on which our lot was cast.
During the absence of the adventurer we had been busily engaged in making preparations for our departure—and everything was packed up and ready by the morning after his return.After some hesitation I yielded to his great wish, which was to return by sea in his cajack round Cape Disappointment, and so meet us at Rockburg.
He was much interested in examining the outlines of the coast, and the rugged precipices of the Cape. These were tenanted by vast flocks of sea-fowl and birds of prey; while many varieties of shrubs and plants, hitherto unknown to us, grew in the clefts and crevices of the rocks, some of them diffusing a strong aromatic odour. Among the specimens he brought I recognized the caper plant, and, with still greater pleasure, a shrub which was, I felt sure, the tea-plant of China—it bore very pretty white flowers, and the leaves resembled myrtle.
Our land-journey was effected without accident or adventure of any kind.
Jack, mounted as usual on Hurry, the ostrich, carried the mysterious wet bag very carefully slung at his side, and when near home started off at a prodigious rate in advance of us.
He let fall the drawbridge, and we saw no more of him until, on reaching Rockburg, he appeared leisurely returning from the swamp, where apparently he had gone to deposit his “moist secret,” as Franz called it.
We were all glad to take up our quarters once more in our large and convenient dwelling, and my first business was to provide for the great number of birds we now had on our hands, by establishing them in suitable localities, it being impossible to maintain them all in the poultry-yard. Some were, therefore, taken to the islands; and the black swans, the heron, the graceful demoiselle cranes, and our latest acquisition, the splendid sultan-cock, soon became perfectly at home in the Swamp, greatly adding to the interest of the neighbourhood of Safety Bay.
The old bustards were the tamest of all our feathered pets, and never more so than at meal-times. They were unfailing in their attendance when we dined or supped in the open air.
Towards evening, as we sat in the verandah listening to Fritz's account of his trip round the Cape, an extraordinary hollow roaring noise sounded from the swamp, not unlike the angry bellowing of a bull.
The dogs barked, and the family rose in excitement; but I remarked a look of quiet humour in Fritz's eye, as he stood leaning against one of the verandah pillars, watching Jack, who, in some confusion, started off towards the marsh.
“Come back, you silly boy!” cried his mother; “the child has not so much as a pistol, and is rushing off alone to face he knows not what!”
“Perhaps,” said I, looking at Fritz, “this is not a case requiring the use of fire-arms. It may be only the booming of a bittern which we hear.”
“You need not be uneasy, mother,” said Fritz; “Jack knows what he is about, only this charming serenade took him by surprise, and I fancy he will have to exhibit his treasures before they reach perfection. Yes, here he comes!”
Lugging his “moist secret” along with him, Jack, flushed and breathless, came up to us, exclaiming:—
“They were to grow as big as rabbits before you saw them. Such a shame! I never thought they would kick up a row like that. Now for it!”—and he turned out the bag. “This is ‘Grace,’ and this is ‘Beauty.’ ”
Two immense frogs rolled clumsily on the ground, and recovering their feet, sat squat before us, swelling and puffing with a ludicrous air of insulted dignity, while peals of laughter greeted them on all sides.“Ladies and Gentlemen, these are two very handsome young specimens of the famous African bull-frog,” said Jack, pretending to be offended at the mingled disgust and amusement occasioned by their appearance; “they are but half-grown, and I hoped to maintain them in seclusion, until they reached full size, when I would have introduced them with proper éclat. But since their talent for music has brought them precociously into public notice, I must beg for your kind and indulgent patronage, and—leave to take them back to the swamp!”
Great clapping of hands followed Jack's speech.
“Grace” and “Beauty” were examined, and commented on with much interest, and voted decidedly handsome “in their way.”
Their general colour was greenish brown, mottled and spotted with reddish brown, and yellow; the sides green and black; the under part yellow mottled with orange. The eyes were positively beautiful, of a rich chestnut hue, covered with golden white dots, which shone with a metallic lustre. The skin of the body was puckered into longitudinal folds.
By general consent they were remanded to the swamp.
Shortly after our return to Rockburg, my wife drew my attention to the somewhat neglected state of our dear old summer residence at Falconhurst, begging me to devote some time to its restoration and embellishment.
This I most willingly undertook, and we removed thither, as soon as the boys had completed the arrangement of the artificial saltlick to their satisfaction.
At Falconhurst things were quickly in good order, and we made a great improvement by completing the broad terrace supported on the arching roots of the trees,—it was better floored,—and rustic pillars and trellis-work sustained a bark roof which afforded a pleasant shade.
After this was done, I was compelled to consent to a plan long cherished by Fritz, who wished to construct a watch-tower and mount a gun on Shark Island. After great exertion, both mental and bodily, this piece of military engineering was completed; and a flagstaff erected, on which the guard at this outpost could run up a white flag to signal the approach of anything harmless from the sea, while a red flag would be shown on the least appearance of danger.
To celebrate the completion of this great work, which occupied us during two months, we hoisted the white flag, and fired a salute of six guns.