The Swiss Family Robinson (Kingston)/Chapter 16
Ten years afterwards—Our farms and farmyards—Fritz makes a voyage of discovery—Cape Minster and the swallows' nests—Pearl oysters—A magnificent bay—The strange message—An excursion to Pearl Bay—Fritz proposes to search for the stranger, and prepares his canoe for her reception—The pearl fishery—An encounter with a wild boar—Jack's accident—Truffles—A midnight alarm—The lion and his mate—Our enemies overcome—Juno's death—We set sail for Rockburg—Fritz leaves us.
“We spend our years as a tale that is told,” said King David.
These words recurred to me again and again as I reviewed ten years, of which the story lay chronicled in the pages of my journal.
Year followed year; chapter succeeded chapter; steadily, imperceptibly, time was passing away.
The shade of sadness cast on my mind by retrospect of this kind, was dispelled by thoughts full of gratitude to God, for the welfare and happiness of my beloved family during so long a period. I had cause especially to rejoice in seeing our sons advance to manhood, strengthened by early training for lives of usefulness and activity wherever their lot might fall.
And my great wish is, that young people who read this record of our lives and adventures, should learn from it how admirably suited is the peaceful, industrious and pious life of a cheerful and united family, to the formation of strong, pure, and manly character.
None take a better place in the great national family, none are happier or more beloved than those who go forth from such homes to fulfil new duties, and to gather fresh interests around them.
Having given a detailed account of several years' residence in New Switzerland, as we liked to call our dominion, it is needless for me to continue what would exhaust the patience of the most long-suffering, by repeating monotonous narratives of exploring parties and hunting expeditions, wearisome descriptions of awkward inventions and clumsy machines, with an endless record of discoveries, more fit for the pages of an encyclopædia, than a book of family history.
Yet before winding up with the concluding events, I may mention some interesting facts illustrative of our exact position at the time these took place.
Rockburg and Falconhurst continued to be our winter and summer head-quarters, and improvements were added which made them more and more convenient as well as attractive in appearance.
The fountains, trellised verandahs, and plantations round Rockburg, completely changed the character of the residence which on account of the heat and want of vegetation had in former days been so distasteful to my wife. Flowering creepers overhung the balconies and pillars; while shrubs and trees, both native and European, grew luxuriantly in groves of our planting.
In the distance, Shark Island, now clothed with graceful palms, guarded the entrance to Safety Bay, the battery and flag-staff prominently visible on its crested rock.
The swamp, cleared and drained, was now a considerable lake, with just marsh and reeds enough beyond it to form good cover for the waterfowl whose favourite retreat it was.
On its blue waters sailed stately black swans, snow-white geese, and richly-coloured ducks; while out and in among the water-plants and rushes would appear at intervals glimpses of the brilliant sultan, marsh-fowl, crimson flamingos, soft blue-grey demoiselle cranes, and crested heron, all associating in harmony, and with no fear of us, their masters.
The giant frogs, Grace and Beauty, delighted Jack by actually attaining in time to the size of small rabbits; and, perfectly knowing their very appropriate names, would waddle out of the marsh at his call, to eat a grasshopper or dainty fly.
Beneath the spreading trees, and through the aromatic shrubberies, old Hurry, the ostrich, was usually to be seen marching about, with grave and dignified pace, as though monarch of all he surveyed. Every variety of beautiful pigeon nested in the rocks and dove-cots, their soft cooing and glossy plumage making them favourite household pets.
By the bridge alone could Rockburg be approached; for higher up the river, where, near the cascade, it was fordable, a dense and impenetrable thicket of orange and lemon trees, Indian figs, prickly pears, and all manner of thorn-bearing shrubs, planted by us, now formed a complete barrier.
The rabbit-warren on Shark Island kept us well supplied with food, as well as soft and useful fur; and, as the antelopes did not thrive on Whale Isle, they also were placed among the shady groves with the rabbits, and their own island devoted to such work as candlemaking, tanning, wool-cleaning, and any other needful but offensive operations.
The farm at Woodlands flourished, and our flocks and herds supplied us with mutton, beef and veal, while my wife's dairy was almost more than she could manage.
My boys retained their old love for giving names to the animals. They had a beautiful creamy-white cow, called Blanche, and a bull with such a tremendous voice, that he received the name of Stentor. Two fleet young onagers were named Arrow and Dart; and Jack had a descendant of his old favourite Fangs, the jackal, which he chose to call Coco, asserting that no word could be distinguished at a distance without “o” in it, giving illustrations of his theory till our ears were almost deafened.
Excellent health had been enjoyed by us all during these ten years, though my wife occasionally suffered from slight attacks of fever, and the boys sometimes met with little accidents.
They were all fine handsome fellows: Fritz, now twenty-four, was of moderate height, uncommonly strong, active, muscular, and high-spirited.
Ernest, two years younger, was tall and slight; in disposition mild, calm, and studious; his early faults of indolence and selfishness were almost entirely overcome. He possessed refined tastes and great intellectual power.
Jack, at twenty, strongly resembled Fritz, being about his height, though more lightly built, and remarkable rather for active grace and agility than for muscular strength.
Franz, a lively youth of seventeen, had some of the qualities of each of his brothers; he possessed wit and shrewdness, but not the arch drollery of Jack.
All were honourable, God-fearing young men, dutiful and affectionate to their mother and myself, and warmly attached to each other.
Although so many years had elapsed in total seclusion, it continued to be my strong impression that we should one day be restored to the society of our fellow-men.
But Time, which was bringing our sons to manhood, was also carrying their parents onwards to old age; and anxious, gloomy thoughts relating to their future, should they be left indeed alone, sometimes oppressed my heart.
On such occasions I would not communicate the sense of depression to my family, but turning in prayer to the Almighty Father, laid my trouble before Him. with never-failing renewal of strength and hope.
My elder sons often made expeditions of which we knew nothing until their return after many hours; when any uneasiness I might have felt was dissipated by their joyous appearance, and reproof always died away on my lips.
Fritz had been absent one whole day from Rockburg, and not until evening did we remark that his cajack was gone, and that he must be out at sea.
Anxious to see him return before nightfall, I went off to Shark Island with Ernest and Jack, in order to look out for him from the watch-tower there, at the same time hoisting our signal flag, and loading the gun.
Long we gazed across the expanse of ocean glittering in the level beams of the setting sun, and finally discerned a small black speck in the distance which, by the telescope, was proved to be the returning wanderer.
I remarked that the skiff sailed at a slower rate than usual towards the shore. The cannon was fired to let him know that his approach was observed, and then we joyfully hurried back to receive him at the harbour.
It was easy to see, as he drew near, what had delayed his progress. The cajack towed a large sack, besides being heavily laden.
“Welcome, Fritz!” I cried. “Welcome back, wherever you come from, and whatever you bring. You seem to have quite a cargo there!”
“Yes, and my trip has led to discoveries as well as booty,” answered he; “interesting discoveries which will tempt us again in the same direction. Come, boys, let's carry up the things, and while I rest I will relate my adventures.”
As soon as possible all assembled round him.
“I think my absence without leave deserves reproach instead of this warm reception, father, and I must apologise for it,” he began. “But ever since I possessed the cajack it has been my ambition to make a voyage of discovery along the coast, which we have never explored beyond the point at which I killed the walrus.
“In order to be ready to start without delay when a convenient opportunity offered, I made preparations beforehand, such as provisioning my skiff, fixing the compass in front of my seat, arranging conveniently rifle, harpoon, axe, boat-hook, and fishing-net. I also resolved to take with me Pounce, my eagle, and this I always will do in future.
“This morning dawned magnificently; the calm sea, the gentle breeze, all drew me irresistibly to the fulfilment of my purpose.
“I left the harbour unperceived, the current quickly bore me out to sea, and I rounded the point to the left, passing just over the spot where, beneath the waves, lie the guns, cannon balls, ironwork, and all that was indestructible about our good old wreck. And would you believe it? Through the glassy clear water, undisturbed by a ripple, I actually saw many such things strewn on the flat rocky bottom.
“Pursuing my way, I passed among rugged cliffs and rocks which jutted out from the shore, or rose in rugged masses from the water. Myriads of sea-fowl inhabited the most inaccessible of these, while on the lower ridges, seals, sea-bears, and walruses, were to be seen, some basking lazily in the sun, some plunging into the water, or emerging awkwardly from it, hoisting their unwieldy bodies up the rocks by means of their tusks.
“I must confess to feeling anything but comfortable while going through the places held in possession by these monsters of the deep, and used every effort to pass quickly and unnoticed. Yet it was more than an hour and a half before I got clear of the rocks cliffs, and shoals to which they resorted, and neared a high and precipitous cape, running far out to sea. Right opposite to me, in the side of this rocky wall, was a magnificent archway, forming, as it first appeared to me, a lofty entrance to an immense vaulted cavern. I passed beneath this noble portal and examined the interior. It was tenanted by numbers of a small species of swallow, scarcely larger than a wren, and the walls were covered by thousands of their nests. They were rudely built, and their peculiarity was that each rested on a kind of platform, something like a spoon without the handle. I detached a number, and found that they had a curious appearance, seemingly made of something fibrous and gelatinous, and more like a set of sponges, corals, or fungi, than nests of birds. I have brought them home in my fishing-net.”
“If we had commercial dealings with the Chinese,” said I, “your discovery would be of value; these are doubtless edible birds'-nests. The bird is called the esculent swallow, and the trade in this strange article of diet is a very large one. The nests are of different value, but those which are quite new, and nearly white, are held in such esteem that they are worth their weight in silver.
“There are tremendous caverns in Java and other places where, at great risk, these nests are procured; the annual weight obtained being upwards of fifty thousand pounds, and the value more than £200,000.
“When placed in water and well soaked, they soften and swell, and are made into soup of very strengthening and restorative quality.
“I think you might try your hand on these, mother, just for curiosity's sake.”
“I can't say I fancy the look of the queer things,” said she, “but I don't mind trying if they will turn to jelly; though boiling birds'-nests is cookery quite out of my line.”
“Oh do, mother, let us taste birds'-nests as soon as you can, though the idea makes me fancy my mouth full of feathers!” laughed Jack.
“It is really a most curious formation,” said Fritz. “From whence are the swallows supposed to get this kind of gelatine?”
“It has never been exactly ascertained,” I replied, “whether the birds discover or produce this curious substance. But what-ever may be its basis, it is clear that a very large portion of it is furnished by certain glands, which pour out a viscid secretion.”
“After laying in my store of nests,” continued Fritz, “I pursued my way through this vaulted cave or corridor; which, presently turning, opened into a very lonely bay, so calm and lake-like, that, although of considerable size, I concluded at once it must be nearly land locked. Its shores, beyond the rocky boundary through which I penetrated, extended in a fertile plain towards what seemed the mouth of a river, beyond which lay rough, and probably marshy, ground, and a dense forest of cedars, which closed the view.
“The water beneath me was clear as crystal; and, gazing into its depths and shallows, I perceived beds of shell-fish, like large oysters, attached to the rocks and to each other by tufts of hairy filaments.
“ ‘If these are oysters,’ thought I, ‘they must be better worth eating, as far as size goes, than our little friends in Safety Bay,’ and thereupon I hooked up several clusters with my boat-hook, and landing soon after on the beach, I flung them on the sand, resolving to fetch another load, and then tow them after me in the fishing-net.
“The hot sun disagreed with their constitution, I suppose; for when I came back the shells were all gaping wide open; so I began to examine them, thinking that after all they were probably much less delicate than the small oysters we have learnt to like so much.
“Somehow, when a thing is to be ‘examined,’ one generally needs a knife. The blade met with resistance here and there in the creature's body; and still closer ‘examination’ produced from it several pearly balls, like peas, of different sizes. Do you think they can be pearls? I have a number here in a box.”
“Oh, show them to us, Fritz!” cried the boys. “What pretty shining things! and how delicately rounded! and how softly they gleam!”
“You have discovered treasure, indeed!” I exclaimed: “why these are most beautiful pearls! Valueless, certainly, under present circumstances; but they may prove a source of wealth, should we ever again come into contact with the civilized world. We must visit your pearl-oyster beds at the earliest opportunity.”
“After resting for some time, and refreshing myself with food,” pursued Fritz, “I resumed my survey of the coast, my progress somewhat impeded by the bag of shell-fish, which I drew after me; but I proceeded without accident past the mouth of the stream to the further side of the bay, which was there enclosed by a point corresponding to that through which I had entered; and between these headlands I found a line of reefs and sand-banks, with but a single channel leading out to the open sea; from which, therefore, Pearl Bay, as I named it, lies completely sheltered.
“The tide was setting strongly in shore, so that I could not then attempt a passage through it, but examined the crags of the headland, thinking I might perchance discover a second vaulted archway. I saw nothing remarkable, however, but thousands of sea fowl of every sort and kind, from the gull and sea-swallow to the mighty albatross.
“My approach was evidently regarded as an invasion and trespass; for they regularly beset me, screaming and wheeling over my head, till, out of all patience, I stood up, and hit furiously about me with the boat-hook; when, rather to my surprise, one blow struck an albatross with such force, that he fell stunned into the water.
“I now once more attempted to cross the reef by the narrow channel, and happily succeeding, found myself in the open sea, and speeding homewards, joyfully saw our flag flying, and heard the welcome salute you fired.”
Here ended the narrative; but next morning Fritz drew me aside, and confided to me a most remarkable sequel, in these words—
“There was something very extraordinary about that albatross, father. I allowed you to suppose that I left it as it fell, but in reality I raised it to the deck of the canoe, and then perceived a piece of rag wound round one of its legs. This I removed, and, to my utter astonishment, saw English words written on it, which I plainly made out to be—‘Save an unfortunate Englishwoman from the smoking rock!’ ”
“This little sentence sent a thrill through every nerve: my brain seemed to whirl. I doubted the evidence of my senses.
“ ‘Is this reality, or delusion?’ thought I. ‘Can it be true, that a fellow-creature breathes with us the air of this lonely region?’ ”
“I felt stupified for some minutes: the bird began to show signs of life, which recalled me to myself; and, quickly deciding
what must be done, I tore a strip from my handkerchief, on which I traced the words—‘Do not despair! Help is near!’
“This I carefully bound round one leg, replacing the rag on the other, and then applied myself to the complete restoration of the bird. It gradually revived; and after drinking a little, surprised me by suddenly rising on the wing, faltering a moment in its flight, and then rapidly disappearing from my view in a westerly direction.
“Now, father, one thought occupies me continually: will my note ever reach this Englishwoman? Shall I be able to find, and to save her?”
I listened to this account with feelings of the liveliest interest and astonishment.
“My dear son,” said I, “you have done wisely in confiding to me alone your most exciting discovery. Unless we know more, we must not unsettle the others by speaking of it; for it appears to me quite possible that these words were penned long ago on some distant shore, where, by this time, the unhappy stranger may have perished miserably. By the ‘smoking rock’ must be meant a volcano. There are none here.”
Fritz was not disposed to look at the case from this gloomy point of view; did not think the rag so very old; believed smoke might rise from a rock which was not volcanic; and evidently cherished the hope that he might be able to respond effectually to this touching appeal.
I was in reality as anxious as himself on the subject, but judged it prudent to abate rather than excite hopes of success which might be doomed to bitter disappointment
After earnest consultation on the subject, we decided that Fritz should go in search of the writer of the message, but not until he had so altered the canoe as to fit it for carrying two persons, as well as provisions sufficient to admit of his absence for a considerable time. Impatient as he was, he could not but see the wisdom of this delay.
We returned to the house, and saw the boys busily opening the oysters, which they had had no time to do the previous night, and greatly excited as ever and anon a pearl was found.
“May we not establish a pearl fishery at once, father?” shouted they. “We might build a hut on the shore of the bay, and set about it regularly.”
An excursion to Pearl Bay was now the event to which all thoughts turned, and for which preparations on a grand scale were made. It was to form, as it were, the basis of a more important voyage Fritz had in view, and to which, unsuspected by the rest, he could devote all his attention.
I took an opportunity, one day, when all were present, to remark in a serious tone:
“I have been considering, dear wife, that our eldest son is now of an age to be dependent on himself. I shall, therefore, henceforth leave him at liberty to act in all respects according to his own judgment; and, especially in the matter of voyages or excursions, he must not be hampered by the fear of alarming us should he choose to remain absent longer than we expect. I have such entire confidence in his prudence, and at the same time in his affection for us, that I am certain he will never needlessly cause us anxiety.”
Fritz looked gratefully towards me as I spoke; and his mother ratified my words, embracing him affectionately, and saying, with emotion, “God bless and preserve thee, my boy!”
It took some time to make several raking or scraping machines, which I invented for the purpose of detaching and lifting the oysters from their native rocks; but that gave Fritz leisure to change the fittings of his canoe, so as to have a spare seat in it.
His brothers naturally concluded he meant to take one of them as shipmate on board, and he allowed the mistake to continue. They occupied themselves in making various articles they expected to be of use, and bore the delay with tolerable patience.
At last came the day, when, taking leave of the mother and Franz, we went on board the yacht, accompanied by some of the dogs; while Jack, proudly occupying the new seat beside Fritz in the canoe, shared with him the honour of leading the way in the character of pilots.
We passed safely through the rocks and shoals near Walrus Island into an expanse of calm water, sheltered by jutting cliffs, where the sea glanced like a mirror, and for the first time we observed the fairy-like shells of the paper-nautilus sailing lightly over the dazzling surface.
It was impossible to see these lovely sea-farers without wishing to obtain specimens; and the canoe accordingly gave chase, presently securing half-a-dozen, which were handed to us in the yacht to be carefully preserved for the museum, and the place was ever after called Nautilus Creek.
Further on we rounded a short promontory, flat, with an abrupt rock at the extremity, to which we gave the name of Cape Pug-Nose; and then, at some distance, appeared the grand cliffs of a headland running far out to sea.
This I supposed we should have to weather, but my pilots made no change in our course, and, following the canoe, we soon came in sight of the majestic archway which offered us a short passage to Pearl Bay.
The wonderfully architectural appearance of the pillars, arches, and pinnacles, surrounding and surmounting this noble entrance, struck me with admiration, resembling parts of a fine gothic cathedral, and inducing me to propose for it the name, Cape Minster.
A perfect cloud of little swallows darted from the cavernous entrance on our approach, divided into flocks, soared, wheeled, flew right and left, and finally returned in a body as swiftly as they came, to the sides of the long dark tunnel, which were festooned with their nests.
We detached a number of these as we passed, taking care to leave those containing eggs or young. The best were at a considerable height, but the broken and shelving rocks afforded, in some places, footing for such daring and active climbers as Fritz and Jack, and they quickly obtained as many as we could possibly require.
Our progress was much assisted by the tide, which, like a current, bore us onward along the nave of this natural cathedral; aisles, transepts, screens, and side-chapels appearing between the columns and arches which in the “dim religious light” were revealed to our wondering eyes.
On emerging into the dazzling sunshine, we found ourselves floating in the calm expanse of Pearl Bay; but it was some minutes before we could look around on the bright and lovely scene.
Fritz had not over-rated its beauty, and the romantic islets which studded its waters seemed to give the effect of a pleasant smile to features already perfect.
We cruised about for some time, surveying the coast with its fertile meadows, shady groves, gently swelling hills, and murmuring brooks, seeking a convenient landing-place in the vicinity of the shallows where lay the oyster-beds.
This we found, close to a sparkling streamlet; and, as the day was fast declining, we made speedy arrangements for burning a watch-fire; after which we partook of a hasty supper, and leaving the dogs, with Coco, the jackal, to sleep on shore, we returned on board the yacht for the night, anchoring within gun-shot of the land.
The coast being quite strange to us, I knew not what wild beasts might frequent it; but, though I did not fear that any would approach us by swimming, yet I was glad to have with us our lively little ape, Mercury (the successor of our old favourite, Knips, long since gathered to his fathers), for he occupied at night a cosy berth on deck, and was certain to give vociferous notice should anything alarming occur.
Fritz moored the cajack alongside, and came on board. The night passed in peace, although for a time we were disturbed by the yelping of jackals, with whom Coco persisted in keeping up a noisy conversation.
We awoke at daybreak, and after breakfasting à la fourchette, we repaired in haste with nets, scrapers, and all other requisites, to the oyster-beds, where we worked with such diligence and success that in the course of two days we had an immense pile of shells built up like a stack on the beach, and left to decay.
I collected a quantity of sea-weed to spread over them, which was afterwards burnt to make alkali, when we returned to secure our harvest of pearls.
Every evening we went out shooting in the neighbourhood, and kept ourselves supplied with game of one sort or another. The last day of our fishery we started earlier, intending to make a longer excursion into the woods.
Ernest set off first with Floss; Jack and Coco strolling after them. Fritz and I were still employed in taking on board the last load of our tools, when we suddenly heard a shot, a loud cry of pain or fear, and then another shot.
At the first alarm, the other two dogs rushed away from us towards the spot, and Fritz, who had just called Pounce from his perch, to accompany us in the ramble, let him fly, and seizing his rifle darted off in the same direction.
Before I could reach the scene of action, more shots were heard, and then a shout of victory; after which appeared through the stems of the trees the disconsolate figure of Jack, hobbling along like a cripple, supported on each side by his brothers.
When they came near me they stopped; and poor Jack, moaning and groaning, began to feel himself all over, as if to search for broken bones, crying out—
“I'm pounded like a half-crushed pepper-corn!”
On examination I found some severe bruises.
“Who or what has been pummelling the boy " I exclaimed; “one would think he had been beaten."
“It was a huge wild boar," said Ernest, “with fierce eyes, monstrous tusks, and a snout as broad as my hand."
We took Jack down to the yacht, bathed his bruises, gave him a cooling drink, and he soon fell fast asleep in his berth, where I left him, and returned to the shore.
“Now, Ernest," said I, “enlighten me on the subject of this adventure! What you and the boar did, is quite a mystery to me."
“Floss and I were going quietly along," replied he, “when suddenly there was a rustling and snorting close by, and a great boar broke through the bushes, making for the outskirts of the wood. Floss gave chase directly, and the boar turned to bay. Then up came Jack with Coco, and the gallant little jacka attacked the monster in the rear. In another moment, however he was sent sprawling upon his back, and this so provoked his master that he fired a hasty ill-directed shot. The brute's notice and fury at once turned upon Jack, who prudently took to his heels, while I attempted to check the career of the boar by a shot, which, however, only slightly wounded it. Jack stumbled and fell over the root of a tree, just as the animal came up with him. ‘Help! murder,’ shouted he; and if the other dogs had not then arrived, and all together tackled the boar, I fear it would have been a case of murder indeed! As it was, the poor fellow got mauled and trampled upon dreadfully.
“As I was waiting for an opportunity to fire without any risk of hitting Jack, Pounce rushed through the air and darted upon the beast, and Fritz came quickly up and shot it dead with a pistol.
“While we were helping Jack along, and passing a place where the boar had been grubbing, I noticed some such curious knotty roots or tubercles, that I brought away specimens. Are they worth anything, do you think? they have a strong smell.”
“If I may trust my nose,” said I, “you have brought something by no means to be despised. Yes,” I continued, putting them to my lips, “these are very fine truffles! Taste them, Fritz.”
“Indeed they are excellent" said he; “very different from the tough, leathery things I remember in Europe: these are tender and well-flavoured."
“Because they are fresh,” said I. “You have before tasted those only which have been brought from a distance. They are found in different parts of Europe, buried at a depth of ten or twelve inches in the soil of oak or beech woods. A small dog is employed to hunt for them, who perceives their musky odour in a singularly acute way, and at once scratches at the spot where they lie.”
“Have the truffles no leaves or stalks,” enquired Fritz, “by which they might be found without the help of the dog?”
“They have nothing of the sort,” I replied; “they are discovered simply by scent, and are considered to belong to the tribe of Fungi.”
By this time it was late: we took supper, made up the watch-fire, and withdrew to our yacht, where we slept peacefully.
Early next morning we proceeded to visit the field of battle. The wild boar, which I had not before seen, proved to be much larger and more formidable in appearance than I had imagined, and Jack's escape seemed to me perfectly marvellous. The boys took it as a matter of course that we were to cut out hams and flitches; and we therefore did so, though I warned them that they need not expect much pleasure in eating bacon from a tough old African boar like this. We conveyed the mighty hams to the beach, each on a sledge of plaited boughs and twigs, and drawn by one of the dogs. The monstrous head travelled in the same way, and we collected a large number of truffles before quitting the forest.
As soon as the dogs were released, they rushed back to the scene of operations in the wood, comprehending that they were now free to feast on what remained there.
There was so much to be done in consequence of this affair, that Fritz, who had hoped to set out on his solitary expedition that day, deferred it until the next; and was, therefore, fortunately with us, when late in the evening we desisted from our labours, and having supped, were preparing to retire to rest.
All at once a deep fearful sound echoed through the neighbouring woods. It made our blood curdle in our veins. We listened with straining ears, hoping it would not be repeated. With a shudder we heard the dread voice roar again, yet nearer to us, and an answer peal from the distance.
“We must find out who are the performers in this concert!” exclaimed Fritz, springing to his feet, and snatching up his rifle. “Make the fire blaze, get on board the yacht, and have all the guns in readiness. I am off to reconnoitre in the canoe.”
We mechanically obeyed his rapid orders, while the bold youth disappeared in the darkness; and, after heaping fuel on the fire, we went on board and armed ourselves with cutlasses, besides loading all the guns, waiting in readiness either to land again, or to quit the coast.
We presently saw the whole pack of our dogs, as well as Coco, the jackal, and the little ape, Mercury (who had been tempted by the truffles to stay with them in the woods), come galloping at full speed up to the fire.
Mercury was evidently excessively discomposed at finding us gone; he gnashed his teeth, and chattered, as though in fear, looking hopelessly at the water, through which he could not venture.
The dogs planted themselves by the fire, gazing fixedly land-ward, with ears erect, and occasionally uttering a barking challenge or a suppressed howl.
Meantime, the horrid roarings approached nearer, and I concluded that a couple of leopards or panthers had been attracted by the scent of the boar's carcase.
But not long after I had expressed this opinion, we beheld a large powerful animal spring from the underwood, and, with a bound, and muttered roar, approach the fire. In a moment I recognized the unmistakeable outlines of the form of a lion, though in size he far surpassed any I had ever seen exhibited in Europe.
The dogs slunk behind the fire, and the lion seated himself almost like a cat on his hind legs, glaring alternately at them, and at the great boar hams which hung near, with doubtless a mixed feeling of irritation and appetite, which was testified by the restless movement of his tail.
He then arose, and commenced walking up and down with slow and measured pace, occasionally uttering short, angry roars, quite unlike the prolonged full tones we had heard at first.
At times he went to drink at the brook, always returning with such haste, that I fully expected to see him spring.
Gradually his manner became more and more threatening: he turned towards us, crouched, and with his body at full stretch, waved his tail, and glared so furiously that I was in doubt whether to fire, or retreat, when through the darkness rang the sharp crack of a rifle.
“That is Fritz!” exclaimed every one; while with a fearful roar, the lion sprang to his feet, stood stock still, tottered, sank on his knees, rolled over, and lay motionless on the sand.
“We are saved!” I cried; “that was a masterly shot. The lion is struck to the heart: he will never stir again. Stay on board, boys. I must join my brave Fritz.”
In a few moments I landed: the dogs met me with evident tokens of pleasure, but kept whining uneasily, and looking towards the deep darkness of the woods whence the lion had come.
This behaviour made me cautious; and, seeing nothing of Fritz, I lingered by the boat, when suddenly a lioness bounded from the shadow of the trees, into the light diffused by the fire. At sight of the blazing faggots she paused, as though startled; passed with uncertain step round the outskirts of the illuminated circle; and uttered roarings, which were evidently calls to her mate, whose dead body she presently discovered.
Finding him motionless, her manner betokened the greatest concern; she touched him with her fore-paws, smelt round him, and licked his bleeding wounds. Then raising her head, she gnashed her teeth, and gave forth the most lamentable and dreadful sound I ever heard; a mingled roar and howl, which was like the expression of grief, rage, and a vow to be revenged, all in one.
Crack! Another shot: the creature's right fore-paw was lamed; and the dogs, seeing me raise my gun, suddenly gathered courage, and ran forward just as I fired. My shot also wounded the lioness, but not mortally, and the most terrific combat ensued.
It was impossible to fire again, for fear of wounding the dogs.
The scene was fearful beyond description. Black night surrounded us; the fitful blaze of the fire shed a strange, unnatural light on the prostrate body of the huge dead lion, and on the wounded lioness, who fought desperately against the attack of the four gallant dogs; while the cries, roars, and groans of anguish and fury uttered by all the animals were enough to try the stoutest nerves.
Old Juno, staunch to the last, was foremost in the fray. After a time, I saw her change her plan of attack, and spring at the throat of the lioness; who, in an instant, raised her left paw, and at one blow the cruel claws had laid open the body of the dog, and destroyed the life of the true and faithful companion of so many years.
Just then, Fritz appeared. The lioness was much weakened, and we ventured to go near enough to fire with safety to ourselves; and finally I despatched her by plunging a hunting-knife deep in her breast.
Ernest and Jack were summoned from the yacht to witness the completed victory: and I regretted having left them on board, when I saw how greatly the noise and tumult had alarmed them, unable as they were to ascertain what was going on.
They hastened towards us in great agitation, and their joy on seeing us safe was only equalled by the grief they felt on learning the death of Juno.
The night was now far advanced; the fire burnt low; but we piled on more wood, and, by the renewed light, drew poor Juno from between the paws of the lioness; and, by the brookside, washed and bound up the torn body, wrapping it carefully in canvas, and carrying it with us on board the yacht, that it might be buried at Rockburg, whither, on the following day, it was our purpose to return.
Wearied and sorrowful, but full of thankfulness for our personal safety, we at length lay down to sleep, having brought all the dogs on board.
Next morning, before quitting Pearl Bay, we once more landed that we might possess ourselves of the magnificent skins of the lion and lioness, whose visit, fatal to themselves, had caused such a commotion during the night.
In about a couple of hours we returned to the yacht, leaving the flayed carcases to the tender mercies of the birds of prey sure to be attracted to them.
“Homeward bound,” sang out the boys, as they cheerily weighed anchor, and prepared to stand out to sea. I could see, though he did not complain, that poor Jack had not yet recovered from the boar's rough treatment, and moved very stiffly.
“You must pilot us through the channel in the reef, this time, Fritz,” said I; adding in a lower tone, “and then is it to be ‘farewell’ my son?”
“Yes, dear father—Au revoir!” returned he, brightly, with a glance full of meaning, while he threw into his canoe a cushion and fur cloak.
“Thanks, Fritz! but I'm going to honour them with the care of my battered bones in the yacht here. You are awfully considerate though, old fellow,” remarked Jack, not for a moment doubting that his brother expected him to return, as he came, beside him in the cajack.
Fritz laughed, and commended his decision. Then springing into his skiff, he led the way towards the open sea.
We followed, carefully, and soon passed the reef; after which the boys were very busy with the sails, putting the vessel on the homeward course, when, waving his hand to me, Fritz turned in the opposite direction, and quickly vanished behind the point, which I afterwards named Cape Farewell.
When missed by his brothers, I said he had a fancy to explore more of the coast, and if he found it interesting, he might, instead of only a few hours, remain absent for two or three days.
Towards evening we sailed into Safety Bay.